In This Issue...
Sébastien Sacré E.B. Gula
Bruce Boston A final story with:
Sébastien Sacré E.B. Gula
Bruce Boston A final story with:
As the cosmos continue to unveil their mysteries and the universe unfolds, we find ourselves contemplating the extraordinary realms that lie beyond our reach. Will this season be filled with awe-inspiring discoveries and interstellar adventures, or will it reveal the darkest corners of our wildest imaginations? At SavagePlanets, we embrace the exhilaration of the unknown while acknowledging the shadows that lurk beyond the celestial horizon.
Neutron Star Nexus
As we traverse the cosmic expanse, we're captivated by the endless ingenuity of our contributors. This issue of Savage with stellar narratives, pro found poems, and oth erworldly wonders.
In our poetry section, we em bark on a voyage through seven enigmatic poems, exploring the depths of human emotion and the mysteries of existence. Journey with us through Connor Fisher's "Swallowing the Letter" as we encounter otherworldly landscapes and transformative experiences, without revealing the poetic twists and turns.
In Planetary Communiqué, our Glorious Overlord Grawth shares his amusement at humanity's obsession with shooting down balloons, resulting in intergalactic
Extraterrestrial Fiction with stories like "The Trillionaires," where environmental constraints clash with family obligations, and "After the Blast," where Jasmine and Dylan emerge from a tunnel postalien attack. Greg Bear's final short story, "Schrodinger's Plague," explores the potential catastrophe of a missing mutated virus. "Delivery" presents a starship crew with an unexpected infant dilemma, while
"Death on Titan, Part 2" unveils a thrilling conclusion to the story showcased in our last issue.
In Sci-Fi Entertainment, delve into "The Movie Pandorum: A Journey into Orbital Dysfunctional Syndrome," enjoy an interview with SFPA Grandmaster Bruce Boston, and discover "The Peripheral: Live Virtual, Move Actual" in our review of the Amazon Prime series.
Our Art Editor, BoB, unveils breathtaking visions in the Future Artifacts section, while Subspace showcases the ingenuity of our fans with a compilation of two-sentence science fiction stories. Witness compressed creativity at its finest, and join the conversation using #savageplanets.
We eagerly anticipate your stories and poems for upcoming issues and would be honored to feature your talents within these pages. As we explore the outer reaches of imagination, we invite you to share your unique perspectives and weave your own cosmic tapestry. Embrace the speculative and immerse yourself in science fiction. Let SavagePlanets be your continuing guide to all things sci-fi, and let your imagination break free from the terrestrial bonds, transcending the limits of time and space as we venture together into the uncharted realms of creativity.
Your support means the universe to us. Visit us at savageplanets.com, and together, we'll embark on an incredible journey through the stars.
Randall scanned the list, flipping his pointer finger upward in annoyance, glancing at the fictionalized, smiling personification of each candidate. They would appear quickly in front of him, begin giving their political sales-pitch, and then–after Randall had lost interest and moved on–disappear. He did not know which political software was best–he never knew how to vote–he just chose the avatar he thought looked most like someone he could enjoy having a beer with.
Everyone always took politics so seriously, but none of the options ever seemed very good to him. One program promised further space industrialization–speeding up the global-warming process on Mars so the red planet would soon become more easily habitable.
Another promised to clean up the Earth, to implement green programs that would allow the planet to heal itself naturally.
That possibility was more than a stretch, Randall knew. It was an impossibility.
Randall didn’t know how to vote. He knew nothing about politics, or software, or the issues affecting Earth and the rest of the solar system. The only reason he even registered was because his friends–who he only saw rarely, anyway, who considered themselves activists, were offended by his unregistered status. Voting was pointless; Randall knew that. That’s why the trillionaires didn’t care whether anyone registered.
The trillionaires who enslaved the world designed the software programs. It didn’t matter what future realities any specific program
promised–what it would do, would be whatever its rich masters told its designers to change it into. Everyone thought political software promoted fairness, a most treasured American value–which to think about it was folly.
Humans aren’t capable of fairness–it’s a concept useful only in theory. No one ever has any power, not really–nobody except the trillionaires, and they only have it for a short time, relatively speaking. Yes, their lifespans are–on average–far longer than the average human, but their scientists hadn’t figured out the secret to immortality. At least not yet.
Aging was simply a biological process, they said. If there was a logical process that furthered its progress–which there was–then that process, with the right research, could be reversed.
He remembered fondly when freedom of travel was legal, but he understood why it was unlawful. Even fully electric, self-driving cars gave people too much freedom. Too much freedom to destroy the world–if not with their cars, then in other ways."
Immortal trillionaires–now that’s a terrifying thought.
The human species is by nature corrupt. There are only two classes in any human society: the rich and the screwed.
Randall decided on the software program called Europa, which promised both to clean up the Earth and implement plans to colonize Jupiter’s moon. People had been there, already–to Europa–there was even a base camp, but no one lived there permanently. It wasn’t like Mars–upon which a small society was slowly developing; a culture evolving. Europa was more like Antarctica. Apparently it used to be, decades ago, back when it was super cold–inhabited only by researchers.
Randall didn’t really care about the Europa software; he didn’t care about any of the programs
the political-technology designers–controlled by their trillionaire masters–created to run the world. They were merely an elaborate illusion, facilitated for years by the owners of the inner solar system. People want to believe they are free–they just don’t actually want freedom in any genuine sense. The political software programs allow for this necessary, allegedly healthy cognitive dissonance. The software itself, though, changed arbitrarily–only the most gullible, utopian buffoons were unaware of that. Randall wasn’t a buffoon. He may be poor, but he wasn’t an idiot.
Randall submitted his vote, massaged his temple, and shut off his societal-communications device. There was no way to shut it off, not entirely, but he still felt a placebo-like sense of privacy
when he turned it off. Most people sat scanning their societal-communications devices all day–eyes fluttering as if in REM sleep–doing mostly nothing. Wasting their lives.
Randall tried to avoid that, but he caved in occasionally to its pull. He would get rid of his device–have it surgically removed and trash it–if it were legal. He told himself that constantly. It wasn’t, though; it wasn’t legal to trash anything, especially not a societal-communications device. That would get you shipped off to one of the legendary Martian gulags. There were rumors of an organized underground, somewhere in the city's underbelly, where you could have societal-communications removal surgery done free. But the thought of venturing into those sketchy, abandoned depths
horrified Randall. The vision of some street surgeon digging into his nervous system with god knows what kind of utensil gave him an anxious migraine.
Randall put on his oxygen-helmet, told the door to open, and walked out onto his narrow balcony. Heavy smog wafted around the exterior of his visor. The ancient, brittle white tree–sitting solemnly in the middle of the playground of the towering, cylindrical constructivist apartment complex–stood as lonely as ever. It was a monument to the past–a landmark–a pickled tree. Remnant bugs–cockroaches, beetles, and ants–crawled around it as if it still lived–as if it weren’t a fossil.
‘Maybe these small creatures could feel nostalgia,’ Randall thought. Perhaps they had an evolutionary awareness of the places they were supposed to be–of the way their home was supposed to appear. They were the only living creatures, aside from other people, that Randall had ever seen.
Randall needed groceries, but he didn’t have permission to leave his apartment complex on Tuesdays. He had government-designated freedom of travel restricted to Thursdays and Sundays. That was a real pain because he was nearly out of food. He still had plenty of bread; bread was still cheap, wheat being a crop not requiring much water to grow. He was, however, running low on dried, synthetic fruits.
He also felt like splurging on some lab-cultivated meat this week–maybe a pork tenderloin. Thinking about food made his mouth water, but he knew he would have to subsist merely on bread and water until Thursday. He could have the groceries delivered by drone from a government Food Distribution Agency, but he liked to go there and shop personally. Randall liked to look at the food he was going to buy. He didn’t trust the government. That’s why he didn’t have that many friends–it was taboo to distrust the government.
It was a pleasant morning. Smog was ever present, but the visibility was better than usual. Randall could see down the hill of his northern Kentucky apartment, almost to downtown Cincinnati. Its cracked skyscrapers sat mostly in abandoned antiquity across the toxic, syrupy Ohio River.
True commerce was essentially illegal; most jobs, and most shopping, could be performed from home. Cincinnati–because of its location in the eastern Midwest–was a city experiencing exponential growth. Compared to the coastal cities, that is, because of constant flooding, which made them nearly uninhabitable. People were fleeing constantly to the interior cities, such as Cincinnati. Cincinnati itself still experienced flooding; the Ohio regularly spewed its bile out into the street, but it hadn’t yet become a major safety concern.
Randall continued gazing down the hill. It was impressive–being able to see that far. He felt a sense of pride at the successes of his local Environmental Protection Agency, before remembering he disliked the government. Randall checked the weather. Local meteorologists advised everyone to stay indoors, because there was supposed to be mild-to-heavy acid-showers later in the afternoon. Randall chuckled at that. He always felt like he had won something, when the acid rains hit on days in which he had to stay home (every day except Thursday and Sunday).
He felt like he had gotten one over on the poor bastards whose days of travel-privilege fell on rainy days, because they would have to stay home. The Culture Police wouldn’t allow anyone out during an acid rain–and god knows they shouldn’t–going out in those conditions was a death wish. He would stay in his apartment, protected by his synthetic granite solar roof.
He hated the government, but he couldn’t deny its occasional tech-
Randall massaged his temple, reigniting his societal-communications device. There was nothing else to do, so he thought he’d check the news. The Global Conglomerate was airing from Mars. A new inter-planetary highway, recently completed, would expedite the shipping of goods produced in the Martian industrial sector.
Politicians promised new jobs in logistics and interplanetary transportation (also known as space trucking). Mars was a socio-political issue upon which nearly everyone agreed. Earth was dying, and Mars was the easiest option for a new swirling, spherical home. In order to move there, though, the planet needed to be terraformed through global warming. This was luckily something which the human animal had all too relevant experience.
The trillionaires opened factories, competing with one another for extra wealth like pigs diving into a sty of fresh slop–elated to crank absurd amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and feel good about doing it. The factories operated around the clock. Brave, rebellious journalists reported the resurrection of the allegedly illegal nine-nine-six work schedule: nine in the morning until nine in the evening and vice versa, six days a week.
The trillionaires, so greedy, even built houses and condominiums there–placing them in climate-controlled, domed resorts complete with artificial beaches and beautiful golf courses. They greeted wealthy vacationers with leis draped on them by green costumed, wide-eyed happy aliens–the logical mascot of this new, chalky red frontier.
The fledgling Martian real-estate business was booming thanks to the wealth generated from the backs of blue-collar workers essentially forced to move there. There was even a nature reserve, rumored to house animals native
to Earth. Randall had trouble believing that, considering that any non-human animal without an exoskeleton was long extinct, as far as he knew.
Randall massaged his temples. He was alone. He hadn’t seen his mother, his father, or his siblings in quite some time–the country had become difficult to traverse in recent years. Randall only had two days when he could theoretically go visit them, but even considering that they lived in Kentucky, just a couple of hours’ travel away, it would be risky. He remembered fondly when freedom of travel was legal, but he understood why it was unlawful. Even fully electric, self-driving cars gave people too much freedom. Too much freedom to destroy the world–if not with their cars, then in other ways.
Unfortunately for the average geo-cultural-American, the destruction of the planet occurred more quickly than the development of an efficient public transportation system. Randall owned an electric car–a minuscule,
maroon Toyota–but he rarely used it. It was primarily for grocery shopping. Traveling made him nervous.
Randall felt confused and afraid, and those undesirable emotions gave his head a throbbing ache. Fear and confusion were, both culturally and technologically, suppressed by the current political institutions. Randall hated thinking about traveling to see people–but he couldn’t help it. It made him feel bad. He knew doing so destroyed the planet.
Randall logged into work. He operated robotic systems at a recycling plant, monitoring faux cheery androids collecting and sorting trash. It was a pointless job. Most jobs were these days, but the government wanted people employed. It gave them purpose–that was the idea. Randall felt little sense of purpose, watching machines distinguish paper from plastic. He simply stared, dazedly watching the bots fulfill their duty as happy as Snow White’s singing dwarfs.
Activating his pet Achilles, Randall
gazed at him lovingly. Achilles, apparently, was a rabbit. His legs were long, and he had a white tail with brown fur. Achilles was always grouchy. He liked to chew up anything he could find–whether or not it was healthy for him–just like a human.
Randall had never seen an actual rabbit–not in real life, anyway–but that’s what it said he was on the box: an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit. He supposed he believed it, because the salesperson said so, too. Randall hated the government, but he didn’t think they’d lie about issues as trivial as household pets.
Achilles, sniffing, darted around the room twice before settling under the couch. Randall relaxed, watching the projection on the wall created by his synaptic connection to his apartment’s Internet of things. Randall loved Achilles; that rabbit was his only constant source of real-life interaction. Randall petted Achilles affectionately between his long ears. Achilles always liked that. He purred gently, grinding his teeth with pleasure.
The acid-rain started coming down. Randall enjoyed stepping out onto his balcony to watch. He knew it was dangerous–it also smelled like shit–but he liked it. Watching the rain, feeling the moisture in the air, did something for him. It reminded him of a world he had never experienced, but to which he felt neurologically attached–much like those bugs crawling around the tree.
Evolution moved slowly–that’s what the big-brained scientists said. It did not equip our minds for the modern world. We should run through the woods and kill birds with slings, and whatnot. That’s why we needed societal communications devices and the Internet of things. It kept us sane. It was vital for the psychological well-being of the species–a species whose brain was now, in a utilitarian sense, expired. Randall could buy that; it seemed to check out. He daydreamed about witnessing the fruits of the Martian global-warming labor. He imagined a green planet–harboring parks filled with healthy flora and fauna, only to become depressed at
the thought. Randall wouldn’t be able to move to Mars, anyway–that luxury was reserved for the ultra-wealthy, not random folk who lived in the constructivist apartment buildings dotting the entire world like swollen pimples.
Former Khruschev era architecture had really caught on worldwide. It was efficient, apparently. Randall didn’t know why; he knew nothing about Soviet architecture. He didn’t even know who Khrushchev was–not really. Just some guy who lived a long time ago. That guy seemed like a real bastard.
Randall enjoyed the rain. He even brought Achilles out onto the balcony, pointing out the weather to him. Achilles sniffed. He liked it, Randall thought. The cockroaches scurried about the trunk of the petrified tree. They were the only organic creatures that could withstand the toxic rain–one of the many reasons they weren’t extinct. They adapted well to change. Cockroaches, with their toughness, adapted with the same ingenuity humans did with their brains. Humans, however, adapt-
ed to chaos simply by furthering it.
Randall massaged his temple, flipping through headlines on his societal-communications device. The projection on the wall of his apartment blinked chaotically. They weren’t necessary, but people still preferred them, for apparently nostalgic reasons. Families enjoyed sitting around the projections while eating dinner.
Randall didn’t have much of a family life, but he still used the projector, because everyone else did. He looked at the flashing screen in boredom. The war in the Middle East raged on, as did the war in Eastern Europe. We were winning–whoever we were–according to the talking heads. Not that it mattered. The reality of war–in Randall’s pessimistic, controversial mind–had long since lost its danger; it was just a competition between the trillionaires, to see who had the most lethal toys.
War was an arena upon which the trillionaires could play. Yes, sometimes they forced actual people to fight (at least that’s what they said–local gossip was certain that
these allegedly real people were lab-created clones), but that was to keep the horde afraid, and to maintain their iron grip on power. As long as they knew they could keep the sheep in their pens and the goats bleating happily, the trillionaires could go back to testing out their toys on one another.
Succumbing to boredom, they’d eventually go back to building resorts on Mars. Europa would be next. No spherical terrestrial body could escape the greed of the trillionaires. They even made claims on gas giants. Anything was possible, with the trillionaires; Randall knew that. He shuddered to think of what sort of war-zone Earth would become once the trillionaires felt more comfortable about the sustainability of their new Martian home.
Randall sat on his couch. Evening was approaching. He would need to go to bed soon. If he stayed up past his government-regulated bedtime, his societal communications device would alert the police. They wouldn’t do anything, they only intervened if someone made a habit of staying up late, but Randall liked to fly under the radar–he didn’t enjoy getting on the bad side of the law.
He fed Achilles and changed the rabbit’s litter box. There was no practical reason for pets to eat, or defecate, Randall knew that–the pet manufacturing agency decided that the smell and feel of organic material (even if synthetic) was psychologically healthy. Randall agreed. He wasn’t that much of a contrarian. The government progressed; it did some good things, sometimes. He knew that. After Achilles finished his dinner, Randall shut him down and placed him in his sleeping-pen. Randall then went to his bedroom and lay down, staring vacantly at the ceiling. His Internet of things shifted the projection on the ceiling to a rainy, musical forest canopy.
There was noise coming from the
apartment next door; a couple was fighting aggressively, screaming at one another. They did that often, but they always made up. The walls were paper-thin, unfortunately–just as the government wanted them. Nothing was secret. Randall could hear all his neighbors all the time. It made it difficult for him to sleep, but he still managed it on most nights.
Sleeping was part of his duty, and he–even though he hated the government–still took pride in being a hard worker, a productive citizen. Those recycling androids wouldn’t oversee themselves. Once he remembered that getting adequate sleep was his duty, and a benefit to the world, he could close his eyes with confidence. Plus, he couldn’t stay up late, even if he wanted to, because he was afraid of the police.
The fighting from next door continued. Randall, exhausted, put his societal communications device on standby. The light projecting the daily news on his bedroom wall faded. Randall closed his eyes. He tried to avoid dreaming; the government could read dreams through the societal communications devices. Randall didn’t want prying into his subconscious; he didn’t want to disappoint them. Hated them, but he couldn’t help wanting to be a good citizen. His life had a purpose; he was sure of it.
On Wednesday, Randall received a call he never expected; a call he thought impossible–a call disrupting his cynical, lazy routine existence. His mother had a stroke. She was in the hospital, in Lexington. She wasn’t doing well.
Doctors thought she might not survive, but they weren’t completely sure. His father was at the hospital, his sister too. Randall should be there, he knew. His father and his sister both had government regulated freedom of travel on Wednesdays, Randall did not. It would be illegal for him
to leave his apartment.
Randall’s head throbbed, both from the stress of the situation and the unwanted ideas invading his mind. He needed to control them; he needed to think only government-approved thoughts. If he couldn’t do that, those bastards would come knocking on his door, and if that happened, there was no way he could visit his mother.
Randall looked outside. Along with the blinding sun, a wave of anxiety-induced lethargy washed over him like a bright shadow. He pulled open the curtains. The skies were clear, but they forecast more acid showers later in the day. He didn’t have the luxury of worrying about that. He activated Achilles and quickly fed him before putting him into his travel carrier.
Randall thought about The Reds, the professional baseball team in Cincinnati. He needed to complete an incredibly important, extremely time-sensitive task as subconsciously as possible, while diverting his primary attention to The Reds. This was difficult, but Randall was skilled–he’d had lots of experience. He practiced this every day–not for any real reason–just in case he needed to sneak past the government censors through mindfulness training. Randall found the exercise entertaining. Now it was coming in handy.
Randall grabbed a piece of crusty bread before heading out. He chewed frantically, leaving crumbs in the empty, flickering hallway.
He kept his car fully charged. Leaving it always on the charger, he couldn’t remember the last time he had driven anywhere except the store. He tossed Achilles into the backseat and yanked open the driver’s side door.
"Hey!" came a confused shout from the balcony of a neighboring apartment. It was Mr. Phillips, a nosy old man horrified by any
sort of rule breaking. Randall waved as jovially as he could muster.
"Hello, Mr. Phillips! How are you doing? Hope all is well with you! Beautiful day, isn’t it?"
"Beautiful now, but it’s going to rain later! You better not be out long! Say, isn’t your travel day on Thursday? What are you doing?"
"Got my days changed! Got a promotion at work, and they let me change my day to Wednesday! It’s good I did–both my dad and sister have Wednesday, so now I can go see them."
"Oh," said Mr. Phillips, confused. He had never heard of anyone getting their travel days changed, ever. Phillips hadn’t heard of it because it never happened. He turned, limping uncertainly back into his apartment.
Randall knew he had little time. Mr. Phillips would open his mouth eventually, and if not his mouth, certainly his mind. Randall pressed the ignition button and
pulled quickly, though carefully, out of the parking lot. He was trying to maintain his focus on The Reds, but Mr. Phillips broke the connection.
Randall attempted to refocus. The Reds were on top of the division. Cesar Mendoza was batting nearly 0.400. John Castleton threw a no-hitter the other night against the Cubs, but The Reds still somehow lost. Randall concentrated, but he feared he had already revealed himself. He wouldn’t know for sure until he saw those flashing blue lights. Randall’s head throbbed violently. The GPS locator in his societal communications device punished him for leaving his apartment on a non-travel day, shocking him like a vibrating dog-collar. The police wouldn’t notice if he was lucky. Hopefully, they had bigger fish to fry. Randall's concentration on baseball could only help him so much.
He swerved left onto Dixie High-
way. He passed Reality Tuesday coffee house, which stayed open, Randall couldn’t help but think, only as a sort of local novelty–a remnant of the recent past, of late-stage capitalism. Randall wondered what stage they were in now. The after-party? He slapped himself, refocusing his attention on his favorite baseball club. Making it onto the interstate, his car’s autopilot engaged, shuttling him onto the continuous conveyor-belt rolling southward on I-75. The piezoelectric interstate juiced Randall’s car. It also powered many of the failing towns along the interstate. Drizzling rain began just south of Dry Ridge. Randall, wide-eyed and manic, felt surprised the police hadn’t spotted him. He even saw an apathetic cop car on the roadside, near the radioactive remnant of what used to be Williamstown Lake.
Achilles didn’t enjoy traveling; pets weren’t supposed to travel, they detested it. Randall felt bad for his companion and released
him from his travel carrier.
Achilles darted chaotically around the car, then settled down to chew the cushions anxiously.
Achilles was distracting Randall from his mindfulness, so he reached back to shut him off. Achilles retaliated, swatting Randall’s hands like a champion boxer. That didn’t work, though–rabbits were mostly helpless; Randall shut him down. He felt bad, but it was for Achilles’ own good.
Randall’s headache became unbearable. He wanted to call his family, but he was certain that if he did, the cops would be on to him. It shocked him they weren’t already. Randall drove little, especially not illegally–so he was truly unaware of the likelihood of his capture.
The rain continued, strengthening by the minute, becoming a downpour. Randall felt grateful the car was self-driving. Cars weren’t completely self-operational–Randall could take manual control if need be–but that wouldn’t be advisable now. Manual vehicle operation was pointless on the interstate, anyway, considering the piezoelectric conveyor-roads.
Randall zoned out, even nodding off briefly. It wasn’t because he was sleepy; he wasn’t; he just needed to shut himself off from the world, as anxiety exhausted him. By turning off his brain, he
shielded himself from reality. He justified this by thinking it would protect his thoughts from the prying minds of the police.
He was wrong, of course. Within his dream, Randall heard a knocking on his window. He snapped awake, glancing around, confused and frantic, before remembering his unfortunate situation. A cop was standing at his window, peering in. The downpour hadn’t yet subsided, but the officer wore protection–an acid-resistant suit and oxygen mask.
The rumor was that the government could easily facilitate the production of enough suits to protect the entire world populous. They didn’t want to do that, though–they needed people to stay home as much as possible. It was the only way to postpone the inevitable destruction of the planet while they continued preparations on Mars.
Randall looked into his rearview mirror. He saw another cop placing Achilles into the backseat of the police cruiser. An animal companion wasn’t a right, it was a privilege, so informed by a government warning written on Achilles’ box. They were taking him away from Randall.
The officer again thumped the glass, this time more forcefully. Randall rolled down the window, but glanced instead to the flashing Internet of things display on his dashboard. The unfortunate message connected simultaneously to Randall’s societal communications device, causing his headache to worsen exponentially.
Psychological conditioning software programmed into each device activated punishment for unwanted emotions, including shock, grief, sadness, and guilt. Randall felt all those emotions. The message was from his sister–their mother had little time left; any minute could be her last.
"Out of the car!" came a booming voice from outside. Randall, detached, forgot about the cop.
He opened the door timidly. The downpour hadn’t yet subsided. The other police officer–the one who had taken Achilles–was walking back to the car, holding an acid-rain poncho. Shoving it into Randall’s open door, he ordered, "Put it on! Then proceed to the police cruiser. The door will open. You have thirty seconds to comply. Move!"
Randall had never worn an acid resistant poncho before–he avoided acid storms at all costs–but he believed they were good for about a half minute of use. He threw on the transparent tarp and rushed, sulking, toward the cruiser. Stepping into the vehicle, its blue lights swirling, a drop of rain struck Randall’s exposed ankle. It burned like hell, immediately blistering his skin. "God dammit," said the police officer. Handing him a tube of ointment, "Put this on."
Randall applied the ointment. It helped, but only a little; his skin would never fully recover, he knew that. Randall, sitting in the plastic-benched backseat of the police cruiser, noticed a plastic, grated cage surrounding him–solidifying his enslavement. He looked across the backseat, seeing Achilles’ box. He teared up. He couldn’t tell if it was from the acid, losing his mother, or losing his beloved pet. ‘Probably everything combined,’ he thought. Sobbing more, he realized he would never see his mother again. He would likely never see Achilles again.
Who knows what his fate would be? Maybe he would end up in one of the fabled Alaskan gulags, scouring the scorched wilderness for natural gas for the Trillionaires–gas they would horde and transport to Mars.
Randall, by force of habit, thought about The Reds. John Castleton threw a no-hitter, but The Reds still lost.
‘What a life,’ he sighed.
She took a step forward and stared at the smoking wasteland of twisted metal and bodies that lay on both sides of the tunnel. In the red-tinged darkness of ash and smoke, humans and machines melted into each other, nearly indistinguishable. "
Jasmine patted herself and her son in the total darkness of the workman's shed. She was looking for flames but found none, no wounds or burns either. Her body still pumping adrenaline and her head spinning, she couldn’t understand how they were still alive and physically unharmed after the saucer’s attack.
It made little sense.
Even their old Labrador, Boomer, had made it safely to the shed. Jumping from car to car, they reached the safety of the alcove inside the tunnel, while the world was melting behind them.
She took deep, ragged breaths
to calm her nerves, but her heart was pumping too hard, thumping loud in her ears, and her legs felt like rubber. She sighed deeply, almost choking on the acrid smell of burning plastic and carbonized meat, swallowed a sob and let herself slide against the tiled wall, her son Dylan still in her arms. As the energy she felt while running dissipated completely, his physical presence against her became the only tangible thing in her life. The only thing that still felt real.
After a few minutes of complete silence, with nothing remaining of the catastrophe but a ghostly ringing in her ears and the safety of the shed’s darkness, it almost
felt as if the honking of cars, the terrified screams along with the deafening roar coming from the wall of fire that engulfed everything had not actually happened. But Jasmine knew she would never forget what she just witnessed. Every unwanted flashback was now burned indelibly into her, playing again and again in her mind.
She felt her son move against her, trying to get comfortable, and felt a sick lurch in her stomach when she realized, even though she had asked him to close his eyes, he may have seen the alien attack. The blast that destroyed the city as she ran, obliterating people and
Did he understand what he saw? She wondered, would it traumatize him forever?
She felt burning tears squeeze through her eyelids as she squinted and hugged her son even harder.
She knew she must get out of this place and find help, but all she wanted to do was fall asleep and let the world continue on
without her. It seemed a better option than going out and facing whatever carnage awaited them on the other side of the shed’s door. A better option than looking up to see that hovering, city-wide spaceship in the sky.
Another flash of unwanted memory came through the darkness into her mind. The image of a little girl she had seen while they were running towards the tunnel. The horror made her squeeze Dylan so hard he cried
out. It had been a tiny girl with a unicorn headband, almost a baby, alone, sitting in a car. She waved at them with a smile, her features brightly lit by the red fire of destruction coming towards them from behind, unseen.
‘I could’ve stopped for her. I could’ve saved her,’ she thought. ‘If I just opened the car door and-’
There was a loud metallic clang on the other side of the shed’s
door and Jasmine yelped, feeling suddenly disoriented and nauseous by the total darkness of the room. She could hear Boomer panting, his breath warm against her leg, and her son’s body stirring, anxiously. There was another clang on the door and Jasmine was about to touch it when she realized it was radiating heat.
Boomer panted faster. The medal on his collar ticked rhythmically. His hair rose on his back. A low growl rumbled from his belly.
"Mom?" came a sleepy voice.
"Shhh, it’s okay," she said, hoping Dylan would fall back asleep, giving her more time to think.
But as time passed, unseen and unknown, and as her body finally relaxed, she realized they couldn’t survive in that shed without food or water. For her son’s sake and her own, she had to get out and face whatever was out there. Or at least avoid it, while she searched. She had to find her way back to Steven.
She clenched her jaws, her mind suddenly clear, cuddling her son and whispering in his ear, "Honey, wake up."
"Get up. We have to get out of this shed. We have to find your dad."
She felt her son’s body detach from hers and, for a second, was afraid to lose him in the dark.
"Are we going to fight the aliens?" he asked.
She fumbled in the dark to find his head, leaned forward and kissed it. It was warm, prickly and smelling of burned plastic, but comfortingly familiar. She realized he had lost his favorite cap but had not yet complained about it.
"No... We’re just going to be together. As a family," she said.
She took a deep breath, got on her knees and, hoping she sounded more confident than she actually felt, said, "Now I’m just going to open the door and take a peek, okay, honey?"
"No, don’t! What if they’re out there?"
"It’s going to be all right. Just
stand behind me."
"Me too, but... I think it’s going to be okay."
"I promise. Take Boomer by the collar and stay behind me. I don’t want him to run when I open the door."
Keeping Dylan behind her with her left arm, Jasmine touched the handle with the tip of her finger, but it was still too hot to grasp, so she took her jacket off, rolled it around her hand and tried again. The handle moved, but the door itself, still radiated heat. It seemed to have swollen, and was stuck.
"Stand back a little further," she cautioned. "I need leverage."
She heard her son shuffle back, knocking something down from a shelf. She then put her left foot against the wall, grasped the handle with both hands and leaned backwards, pulling with all her might. The heavy metal door groaned, unwilling to move. Suddenly, it slammed open with a loud metallic groan.
Jasmine fell backwards in the dark, her elbows hitting the floor painfully. A wave of heat struck them, Boomer cowered, whining, and Dylan gasped. Jasmine saw a shadow fall through the opening, bathed in the tunnel’s red light, and felt something burning. Whatever it was twisted and fell on her leg in a faint cloud of ash and smoke.
"Mom! An alien!" Dylan screamed.
"Close your eyes!"
She reached for the thing, ready to throw it off, but all her fingers grabbed was a hot, branch-like object, greasy and slippery.
Since there was not enough light to see, she felt around and realized that it was attached to a larger part that reeked of barbecue, twisted, and charred. Then she touched something that felt like a head. Her fingers probed a lip-less mouth with broken teeth.
‘Oh my God,’ she gasped, realizing she was touching human remains. Repressing a scream, she sat up, pushing the body through the door, using her feet to push it away. Frantically, she wiped her hands on her jeans.
"Dylan, whatever you do.... don’t look."
"But I can’t see anything! Was it an alien?"
"No, it was... nothing. Just debris. Now I’m going to make sure it’s safe for us to go out there, okay?"
"Don’t leave me alone!"
"I won’t. Just taking a peek."
Carefully, she exited the shed into the tunnel and looked at the body lying by the door. Under the faint emergency lights, trapped in their half melted cages, she could make out the form. It didn’t look human anymore. Curled up on itself, most of its limbs bent, hands like claws with a skeletal grin. It looked almost alien.
"God, I hope that’s not what they look like," she mumbled.
"Do you see anything?"
"No, nothing. Just lots of junk and cooked cars. From the blast." She said.
"Do you see anyone?"
She took a step forward and stared at the smoking wasteland of twisted metal and bodies that lay on both sides of the tunnel.
In the red-tinged darkness of ash and smoke, humans and machines melted into each other, nearly indistinguishable. Charred beyond recognition in a sinister procession of death, heading in both directions.
"Is everybody dead?"
"I don’t know, honey. Probably..." She thought about the attack and how the blast wave seemed to have gone in all directions, fired from the underside of the saucer. Jasmine realized what she was seeing probably happened all over the world. The thought of having to walk her son through a devastated city to find her way
back to Steven chilled her to the bone. Finding him alive would be a miracle, one she prayed for.
Jasmine knew there would be injured people out there, survivors needing medical help. She remembered watching an ambulance from the mouth of the tunnel race by, then overturn. She hoped she might find some salvageable supplies inside. If not, maybe someone still alive in there needing rescue.
Then she heard a desperate scream, somewhere in the distance. She felt an urge to run towards them and help. But she had no training, and she had her own son and dog to look after.
‘Being a stripper doesn’t matter
anymore,’ she told herself. ‘I’m a survivor and I’m not wounded, which means I can help, should help. Maybe I can make a difference.’
She took a deep breath again and realized the thought calmed her, helped her focus. Now she knew exactly what she had to do.
She went back to the shed, took her son by the hand, and led him out. Boomer trotted beside them, head on a swivel, sniffing at all the strange smells.
"Keep your eyes closed, Dylan. We’re getting out," she said. "Come on, let’s go. Let’s find your Dad."
The Planetary Communiqué is a section reserved for the dissemination of official intergalactic communications from our galactic overlords to the subjugated planets and territories. The editorial staff does not endorse or hold opinions regarding the content of such communications. Frankly, we lost several of them who did! Therefore, Hojack requires compliance with all opinions and edicts issued by the Galactic potentate and its politburo.
The human quest to shoot down balloons seems to be one of the greatest punchlines this side of Andromeda. Your Glorious Overlord Grawth watched with the greatest enthusiasm as balloons from his niece's birthday party were floated to your stratosphere, triggering an international crisis, and resulting in panic, disarray, political finger-pointing and posturing. The funniest part was watching you get all worked up to the point of triggering your planetary defenses (as if this is really a thing).
As your humble Underlord Hojack, I've been observing the latest news about your puny planet's obsession with the unidentified flying objects (UFOs), and let me tell you, it's been a source of great amusement for us.
The mere fact that you still debate whether there is intelligent life beyond your own planet is hilarious. The universe is debating whether or not there is intelligent life on your planet. About 85% of folks here strongly believe there is no intelligent life on your planet, and another 10% firmly believing that a human is just about as smart as a doorknob. Another 4 percent believe that doorknobs are smarter than humans. Approximately 1% erroneously responded to the survey thinking they were registering for the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes. Larry, who lives by himself in his mom's basement in a planet just off of Alpha Centauri, was the only respondents who indicated
that he believed humans were 'intelligent.' However, during a recent interview with the Galactic Enquirer, he admitted that what he meant to say was that humans were 'intransigent' and that, as luck would have it, he happened to have had a stroke at the exact time he was responding to the poll. He also added that he thought he was registering for the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes.
Your primitive attempts at exploration of the cosmos have shown us time and time again that you are nothing but a comic relief for the rest of the sentient civilizations in the galaxy.
Let's be honest, if we wanted to conquer your planet, we could do so with ease. We would not be sending balloons, but war ships to raze your puny little planet.
But why bother when you entertain us so much with your little
games? It's just too funny to ignore. Sure, you can say that you're still trying to understand the possibility of extraterrestrial life, but your limited understanding of the universe is laughable. The vastness of space is far beyond your comprehension, and your technological advancements are so primitive that you can barely even reach your own moon. It's not just your lack of capability that makes you fail at exploring the unknown. It's also your internal political and social dynamics that hold you back.
Your governments and private organizations bicker and squabble, never able to agree on a clear direction or purpose for your efforts. You'd rather waste your time and resources chasing UFOs instead of using them to advance your own civilization.
What could be funnier than watching you launch a multi-million dollar air-to-air missile to bring down
a helium balloon! What's next? How about launching multi-million dollar rockets at space pinatas or 'alien' satellites?
It is obvious that there is something seriously wrong with your ability to cognate.
In light of recent events, your Overlord Grawth has decided to issue the following edicts:
All humans shall be required to report any UFO sightings to their respective governments. However, we know that your governments can't be trusted to handle such sensitive information. Therefore, all UFO sightings shall be reported to us directly.
We will distribute devices which we will call a "UFO Tracker," and every human shall be required to carry it at all times. This will enable us to keep a closer eye on your futile attempts at understanding the universe. The "UFO Tracker" will have the shape of a tin foil hat. You have to wear it at all times.
Your elected officials are required to attend meetings carrying balloons when they feel a pressing need to interrupt the lead speaker with lewd gestures and shouts. Their attire should include feather boas or other dead lower life forms to assert their intention to interject. This will allow our recorders to focus an oculus on them to catch every nuance of their lascivious and immature behavior during recitations. They are a source of digestive amusement for our friends on Demeter 7,whose reactions we record as well as they roll in fungus. This edict was first demonstrated at a recent State of the Ha! Address. Compliance is mandatory.
In honor of your fascination with UFOs, all humans shall be required to celebrate "Alien Day" on the first day of every new year.
During this holiday, all humans shall be required to wear costumes that represent their favorite extraterrestrial species. We know that your obsession with the unknown is never-ending, so we might as well have some fun with it. It's just another reason to laugh at your primitive ways. This will allow real aliens to visit your planet and walk around undetected. Is that octopus-looking creature a real alien from the outer rings or is that Dave who works at the gas station with a clever home-made costume? You'll never be able to tell! Just remember, the octupoid lifeforms always get a little peckish right before sunset.
You will forever be limited by your own mental limitations and hindered by your own internal divisions. You cannot tell a party balloon from and alien craft or from spy craft. It is only through the beneficence of your Glorious Overlord that you are allowed to continue your pitiful existence at all. So go ahead, keep chasing those UFOs, and keep amusing us with your little games. We'll be watching, and we'll be waiting for the day when you finally realize the futility of your efforts. Until then, keep us entertained, humans. You have nothing better to do.
The movie Pandorum released in 2009, a collaboration between German and British filmmakers was a flop, financially. Christian Alvart directed the film, and it was produced by Robert Kulzer, Jeremy Bolt and Paul W. S. Anderson, with the latter two through their Impact Pictures banner. Travis Milloy wrote the screenplay from a story by Milloy and Alvart. But for those of us that enjoy dark science fiction, it is a secret gem, and one that I feel we should share. They billed it as science fiction with elements of Lovecraftian horror blended into a survival adventure. Think of it as I am Legend in space. Yet it is far more interesting in scope and vision.
The problem with the film involves all the story expositions being there, except they jumbled them up in such a way that the viewer has to put the puzzle pieces together. Information that should appear early shows up late, and they provide later information early and out of context. To add another layer of complication, two scenes happen simultaneously, somehow linked, to provide the viewer with insight. So the first viewing of the movie is confusing at best. And most folks don’t go back to see it again because of the gruesome sequences.
The screen writer and director knew what was going on, but the audience didn’t. This also happens with young writers, where they know what to expect in their stories, but it does not quite get to the page. Then you add a layer of insanity to the mix, and any sane viewer can’t keep up. More on this shortly.
The word Pandorum is a slang word coined in the script and movie to define Orbital Dysfunctional Syndrome. Orbital Dysfunctional Syndrome (ODS) is a condition caused by deep space and triggered by emotional stress. It is first introduced as ODS without explanation. The symptoms include severe paranoia, delirium, and nose bleeding. And of course, the lead characters suffer from it or succumb to it, adding a dimension and further complication to the plot. Because you do not know if something is actually happening, or simply in the character’s hallucination.
So consider this a guide to the movie, best read beforehand to get the full measure of the tale. The massive colony ship they are on is called Elysium. Carrying over 60,000 passengers in hyper-sleep, plus embryos of multiple Earth species, the ship has only a handful of crew awake on a rotating basis. It is not just a haunted house, but actually a character in the story and an evil one. Elysium departs Earth in 2174 on its 123 year trip to the planet Tanis. An exoplanet in the habitable zone of another star system with true Earth-like qualities, oceans, land masses with plants, and other primitive lifeforms.
The population of Earth at their departure is 24.3 billion. Humanity and all life are dying quickly. Food shortages, loss of biodiversity, war, and pollution make life nearly unlivable there. Eight years into Elysium’s mission, the Captain, first officer, and
Lieutenant Payton/Gallo receive a transmission from Earth:
‘You're all that's left of us. Good luck, God bless, and Godspeed.’
Payton/Gallo doesn’t take it well, and succumbs to Pandorum. He kills the Captain and First Officer, and tucks himself into hyper-sleep intermittently, presetting the timer to wake up later in the flight. Other flight crews, surprised by the lack of reception by the flight crew rotating out, do their duty, pushing aside the inconvenience. The story begins when Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) wakes disoriented for his schedule rotation. Bower is on flight crew five and is a mechanical engineer.
Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid) wakes up shortly before and is equally disoriented, or in fact, just living out his deranged plans in ODS. Lt. Payton and Corporal Bower find themselves trapped in the engineering section, unable to get to the bridge or the rest of the ship. Payton orders Bower to open the door to the rest of the ship, since the controls to do so are outside the engineering door. So he climbs into an access tube and heads aft.
He makes his way through a hellacious forest of tubes into the main part of the ship. But the ship’s power is fluctuating and the urgency of the situation demands he get to the Reactor and reactivate it before it fails completely. This leaves Payton in the engineering section with his alter-ego and younger self, Gallo (Cam Gigandet), who is frankly insane and deep in Pandorum, to wrestle and argue.
Bower is heading toward the reactor at the back of the ship when Nadia (Antje Traue), a genetic environmentalist, attacks him. Her job is to mind all the embryos, and she has been in survival mode and awake for a ‘long’ time. They settle their differences and work together. But then, almost immediately after, cannibalistic humanoids attack them. Entities that have adapted to the ship, following dosages of an accelerator enzyme given in hyper-sleep to help them adapt to Tanis.
Instead of Tanis, they adapt and mutate to survive on the Elysium. Nadia and Bower escape after a harrowing chase and meet up with other human ‘survivors’, both good and evil, en route to fix the reactor. Some, like Manh (Cung Le), who doesn’t speak English, have other skills. He works in agriculture and is a good fighter.
The cannibalistic humanoids have a king (Andre Hennicke), who leads the hunters to predate on those coming out of hyper-sleep. This all begs the question, why is this happening? Why is the reactor failing and these mutant cannibals on-board? We do not learn this until the end of the movie. We, like Nadia and Bower, discover the ship already crashed on Tanis and is deep underwater. Over nine hundred years have passed since it left Earth!
And no, I’m not giving away the ending, and the above is the straightforward plot. But straightforward isn’t the way, because they break up these important expositions into a mosaic of bits scattered throughout the plot. Add to that the ultra-violence and horror, and it was a turnoff to moviegoers, but I believe it was an awesome concept.
The film has a happy ending, sort of. The only thing that makes little sense is when Bower succumbs to Pandorum, during the fight scene, when he is, in fact, never exposed to deep interstellar space. Extreme stress certainly, but he has only been awake a short time.
One other important point: Orbital Dysfunctional Syndrome was first encountered on another colony ship, Eden. On Eden, the Captain hallucinated, had nose bleeds, handshaking, and paranoid delusions after a long time in deep space while awake. The tragedy is that he ejects all the hyper-sleep pods while the Eden is in deep space, essentially killing everybody.
To avoid this, the Elysium went to rotating up to six flight crews. They are awake for short periods, then put back to sleep. The knowledge that the people on Elysium were the last survivors of Earth drove Lt. Payton to become his schizophrenic split personality, the insane Gallo.
The richness of the story is compelling. There is always something of interest to focus on for science fiction aficionados, but there are numerous balls in the air, and new information coming all the time. So it is easy to get lost in the film. In fact, for me, it was only in the second viewing that I really enjoyed it because I wasn’t struggling to understand what was going on. So even with this article, consider watching the film several times before dismissing it.
I believe Pandorum has a lot to offer and really is under appreciated. Check it out!
By the way, Paul W. S. Anderson wrote and directed many other top science fiction and horror films. So if you are seeking something to watch in those genres, investigate his other movies.
Bruce Boston is a writer, but at heart he is a science fiction poet. In this rarefied world, he has published in most of the major magazines of the genre from the 80s to the present and won numerous awards, including the first Grand Master Award of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Of course, his peregrinations have taken him to other forms, but here we will first focus on his poetry.
I prefer the term speculative poetry, which in my case includes science fiction, fantasy, supernatural horror, and surrealism. Speculative poetry differs significantly from mainstream poetry in several ways. Mainstream poetry deals with the here and now, the everyday world as we experience it. Speculative poetry is more akin to fiction. It deals more with the imagination, the world as it might be. It often asks ‘What if?’ For example: Heavy
If gravity changed like the weather, covering the planet
in waves and pockets, fronts and depressions, there would be days on which we could not move an inch.
We would lie helpless, strapped to the slowly turning Earth by a rain of weight that limited both our breath and movement. We would have time to consider the nature
of such an existence, to daydream about an end of the storm and those perfect
feather days when we could fly like birds over cities and forests as if we had wings.
(First appeared in Asimov’s SF, 2004 Asimov’s Readers Award, included in my collection Brief Encounters with My Third Eye, Crystal Lake, 2016)
Speculative poetry also differs from the mainstream regarding the use of the “I” voice. In mainstream poetry, the “I” voice is most often the voice of the poet, the person writing the poem, whereas in speculative poetry, it is most often the voice of a fictional character. For example:
Seduced by pheromones more potent to the senses then my species’ own, I ride her blue cries to crimson excitations, and for a trembling instant the light years between our limbs collapse.
Charged by the tendrils of her spiked electric fur to telepathic sight, I feel pain raining down, see blue fields blown in the searing light, know the wiles of victims for the pale glabrous beasts who handle them by night?
At dawn the dreadnaughts leap, another world to take, her scent is still upon me, blue miles to go before I wake.
(First appeared in Star*Line, 1987, included in my collection Brief Encounters with My Third Eye, Crystal Lake, 2016)
I would also add that the best speculative poetry, while it takes place in an imagined world, often reflects and comments upon the real world.
As to why I chose speculative poetry: In my early years as a reader, I became enamored with science fiction and read everything that was sf in my local library, joined the Science Fiction Book Club, and supplemented that by buying both sf novels and magazines at the local newsstand. Later, both in high school and college, I read a lot of the classics of literature and was taken with the poetry of writers such as Eliot, Pound, Dylan Thomas, Yeats, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams.
Dark poetry and fantasy poetry were fields that had a long history, but with science fiction I discovered a virgin field that was just coming into being and being explored, both through the Science Fiction Poetry Association (founded by sf novelist Suzette Haden Elgin in 1978), and also, the major science fiction magazines, that had previously published only humorous rhyming poetry, and were now beginning to publish more serious poetry that was often free verse. It was catching up with the reality of the contemporary poetry world. In short, it was a field that was new enough so that it offered the most possibilities and vistas to explore.
How does surrealism fit into your category of speculative?
Surrealism often creates strange and unique ways of looking at
the world by juxtaposing words, images, or events that one rarely thinks of as belonging together. A prime example would be Dali’s melting clocks. In fact, the title of my first speculative poetry collection was All the Clocks Are Melting (Velocities, 1984). However, most of my surreal poetry appears in my collection Surrealities (Dark Regions, 2011), including my poem “Surreal Domestic,” which is full of such juxtapositions.
I open the refrigerator and instead of food, it is stocked with automatic weapons and hand guns and ammunition.
I make love to my wife and find that she has a third eye
where her navel should be.
I have a clock that makes a different noise every hour. Sometimes it sings like a bird. Sometimes it is a train pulling into a station.
At least once a day, it is a bullfight or a shuttle launch.
I took it to a jeweler to have it fixed.
He told me not to fool with it or it would melt.
I have a giant flea for a pet. It has little dogs running around on it.
When I turn on the TV, the stereo comes on.
When I turn on the stereo, the toaster heats up.
When I pop a slice of split-topped wheat into the toaster, the garbage disposal begins de-
I have all of this memorized. It changes every day.
At the back of my walk-in bedroom closet there is a giant zipper that runs vertically from the floor to nearly the ceiling. I have never touched it. Believe me.
(First appeared in Strange Horizons)
Besides poetry, you’ve also published two novels and more than a dozen story collections. What differences do you find in writing fiction versus poetry?
Less than one might think. It seems to be a human tendency to categorize the world in order to understand it. This is certainly the case with creative writing. Yet I also see the field as a continuum. There are many poems, including many of my own, that are also narratives, that tell a complete story just as fiction does.
In nominee Patris et Filii et Felidae Sancti
Cassock torn, rorschached by blood and sweat, a detailed gold crucifix with a broken chain clutched so fiercely in one skeletal fist, that an intaglio of the thrice-nailed Jesus imprints like a scar in the hollow of his palm, he trod through patches of light and shadow
cast by vast vegetal eruptions he cannot name except to christen them infernal or sublime.
Having penetrated farther into the wilderness
than any of his far less stalwart
brethren, all of whom have fled to the coast or died, his aquiline features are increasingly set in a rigorous mask of beatific masochism, he is sustained by the fervor of a faith
more maniacal than the landscape he tracks.
The creatures of the forest do not harm him, in awe of the madness inherent in his quest.
Swarming clouds of carnivorous red jackets
shun the taste of his pale fevered flesh.
Or it may be his sermons that protect him, leaden tracts rehearsed till letter perfect in the sanctum of some distant
spartan cell, now raged and chanted through the awful glens, against the scattered shards of unthatched sky, embellished by a rising hallucinatory passion, peppered with the mucous rattle of his breath.
On a morning born from nightmares, he awakens,
no memory in his mind of how he came to sleep; the congregation he has sought is all about him, a flock of clever felines who walk upon two feet.
With the scraps of human tongue, they've gathered, they listen to his tales of the sacrificial son.
Here his faith is heresy, his form abomination, he whets their appetites with his
talk of blood. As their paws and claws defrock him, pry the gold from his hands, strip away his sacerdotal shreds, his dreams take flight beyond a martyr's death. He envisions the pomp of his future consecration, in the Holy City, a host of hosannas sung on high, yet the fate he soon discovers is far from divine. Bound by mutant skins, stained with mutant dyes, he becomes a penitent before a graven shrine,
novitiate and servant to a pagan panther priest. For visionary madness is familiar to their kind, and they only devour the ones they cannot teach.
In the ghetto of Caracas, you can see him every day, an excommunicate, a derelict, a holy man, some claim, a strangely tattooed apparition, both hirsute and gray, who preaches the imminence of a feline Second Coming, and sees the reborn Savior as a bestial incarnation, complete with taloned forepaws and the eyes of a cat.
(First appeared in Asimov’s SF, 1990, included in my collaborative collection with Robert Frazier, Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest, Crystal Lake Publishing, 2017)
This is clearly a poem. This is clearly a short story. There are also many flash fictions (up to a 1,000 words) that can stand as prose poems because of their use of language. And even looking at novels, one can find many authors that employ a good deal of poetic language to enhance the effects of the tale they are telling. To name just a few: Nabokov, Lawrence Durrell, Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Ross Macdonald.
What advice would you give to younger writers?
There are hundreds if not thousands of books by established authors that supposedly tell you how to write fiction or poetry. They may help some, but I’ve never read any or put much stock in them. I think all writers create work that is a product of the world they were born into, their personal experiences, and the books they have read. My advice to younger writers is to read as much as possible and write as much and as often as possible. Discover the authors you like and figure out why their creations work for you. Learn the techniques of fiction or poetry by seeing how such authors employ them successfully. Writing is an art and also a craft. The art won’t matter — none will read it — without the craft.
You’ve been writing and publishing for sixty years. From your vantage as a writer, how has the field changed in that time?
In too many ways to list here, but here are a couple. When I first began writing, it was
far more difficult to be published. Now it is much easier to publish both stories and poems because of the Internet and the sheer quantity of the publications available to which one can submit. It’s also easier to self-publish entire books, since it’s much less expensive because of the lowcost technology of laser printing. On the downside, the pay rate increases for writers, even in professional publications, have fallen far below the rate of inflation.
Kurt Vonnegut once observed that there was a time when one
could make a living from writing short stories. Not only is that time long past, but now the same can be said about writing novels. Most novelists these days, even those who turn out a book or more a year, have to supplement their incomes elsewhere to make a living.
What works of yours would you most recommend to readers?
Depends on what they are after. If they are interested primarily in mainstream fiction, I’d suggest
my novel Stained Glass Rain, a coming-of-age tale set in the drug culture of the mid-1960s. For genre/ speculative fiction, I’d recommend my dystopian sf novel, The Guardener’s Tale and my best of fiction collection Masque of Dreams. If they are interested in genre/speculative poetry, I’d mention my retrospective collections Brief Encounters with My Third Eye for short poems and Dark Roads for longer ones. All the above books are available online, and they can order most of them through bookstores or on loan from your local library.
What are your plans for the future? What works do you have forthcoming?
Plans, you ask? Well, at my age they aren’t in the infinite range. I think I’ll keep doing what I have been doing, writing and submitting both poetry and short stories. If I catch the dreaded novel fever and inspiration, I may try to finish one more novel. Currently, I have poems forthcoming in Analog, Asimov SF, Weird Tales and several anthologies.
Thanks again Bruce, for your body of work, and your time. We are honored.
Do you consider yourself a sci-fi aficionado? Mr. Boston's poem is featured in the Imaginaria section of this magazine. After reading it, turn to page 31 to see if you can solve mystery contained in this speculative poem and test your knowledge against other fans of science fiction.
The Peripheral is a television series which premiered on Amazon Prime on October 21, 2022. The series, inspired by William Gibson’s book of the same name, will follow the Jackpot trilogy, with the third book yet to be released. Undoubtedly, it is the best science fiction television series to date. Intelligent and disorienting, we follow the adventures of Flynn Fisher and her brother Burton.
They jump between their present in 2032 to a future ‘stub’ set in 2170, between North Carolina and London, respectively. In the future, Flynn, Burton, and others appear virtually, implanted into and occupying robotic body known as Peripherals. Their sponsor is Lev Zubov, a wealthy Russian. This diverges widely from the book as Detective Inspector Ainsley Lowbeer organizes the Peripherals they occupy.
In both the book and the television series, the primary thrust is the same, to discover the location of Aelita whose disappearance is because of interesting circumstances. In the book, Aelita West is the sister of Daedra West, an artist/celebrity/diplomat working for the Milagros corporation to establish relations with the ‘Patchers.’ The Patchers live on the huge garbage patch in the Pacific ocean (it exists in reality, by the way), but those that live there suffer deformities from the toxins. Wilf runs drone security when Aelita goes missing. In the TV series, Aelita is Wilf Netherton’s sis-
ter, who has stolen mind control tech from Cherise Nuland, CEO of RI, an organization that builds peripherals. The differences don’t end there, though. In the book Flynn is black, in the TV series, Flynn is white, played brilliantly by Chloë Grace Moretz. While Wilf Netherton in the book is white, and in the television series is black (played by Gary Carr). Their personal qualities, however, are similar, if not equivalent, in both book and series.
In the series's present, 2032, in North Carolina, the story takes off after Burton receives a game SIM from Columbia. He insists Flynn try it. Flynn, using the SIM, enters a peripheral in the future stub, set in 2170 London, that looks like Burton. The stub is a timeline branch created by influencing past events in the future. Flynn as Burton, in the peripheral, helps Aelita steal the mind control tech from RI, angering Cherise Nuland (played by the beautiful T’Nia Miller). Cherise then hires bounty hunters in her past, the Fishers present, to take them out. Here’s where it gets even cooler: they dishonorably discharged Burton and his crew from the Marines, but the group still all possess an advanced technology known as haptics (communication through touch) allowing them to operate as a single fighting unit through a connection via neural implants. The military installed the haptics after selecting recruits from the same town because of their familiarity and ability to fight together. The haptics not only allow remote communication, but both an empathic connection and an ability to operate each other's muscles remotely when needed in battle. One member of the team detects Cherise’s bounty
Cherise armed the bounty hunters with advanced military tech, but Burton Fisher and his unit still defeats them because of their haptic augmentation. This puts the family, Burton, Flynn, their mother, and the unit on alert for other attacks. They also have to contend with Corbell, the local rich guy that essentially owns the town, who wants to control them, while they move back and forth to the future as both Lev Zubov and Detective Inspector Lowbeer use them for their own purposes.
While up in the future, all stubs have one thing in common: the Jackpot. Hence, the name of the trilogy andhunters via drone in the forest around Fisher’s home, and the team prepares to defend against the attack.
possibly the name of the last book in Gibson’s trilogy. The Jackpot occurs in the 2040s. It is a trifecta of global financial collapse, pandemic and world war all at the same time. It reduces the world population from billions to thousands.
The series provides a wonderful glimpse of it in an outdoor museum. On activation, an exhibit plummets Wilf and Flynn into a virtual reality display of the history of the Jackpot. The Jackpot could very well be humanity’s outcome in reality, based on a theory astrobiologists are now calling the Great Filter. The Great Filter states that all advanced civilizations will die out by their own hand, which is why the Earth has not encountered advanced alien societies to date. They just self annihilated before first contact.
Remember, this is simply the dual complex worlds these characters are living in. Also know, the television series is far easier to comprehend than the novels. Gibson intentionally, or not, gives the reader the uneasy feeling you experience when attempting to decipher the story’s cryptography, similar to what the characters experience as they move through the plot. The reader, like the characters, not only has to understand their predicament, but to survive and even triumph within the circumstances they find themselves. Fortunately, the reader is not at risk, like the characters. Or are they?
Scott Smith is the creator and executive producer of The Peripheral TV series. In April 2018, he recruited Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, the creators of the TV series Westworld, to take it from script to series. Amazon Studios accepted the series for development a year later. Joy and Nolan brought in Athena Wickham, Steve Hoban, and Vincenzo Natali. Natali directed the pilot. Warner
Brothers co-financed and produced the series with Amazon.
They began casting in October 2020, first with Chloë, then Gary, as Flynn and Wilf, respectively. The rest of the cast followed over the next year and shooting began in July 2021. I suspect, based on its popularity, we will see at least two more seasons of the show. Gibson evaluated The Peripheral TV series favorably, but I suspect he had a gun to his back when he said it.
William Gibson, himself, is a bit of a recluse. He shies away from the cameras and interviews even more so than Neal Stephenson does. Gibson is probably the original cyberpunk, coining not only the name of the genre but also naming the reality within the Internet, cyberspace. He would humbly say, though, it was a collaborative effort with other writers and cyberpunks, including Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Lewis Shiner, and Rudy Rucker.
Those writers formed the core of the radical literary movement. Cyberpunk was best delineated in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, which included Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. In Neuromancer, Gibson coined the term the matrix, and we know what that led to! Besides cy-
berspace, Gibson popularized terms such as net surfing, ICE (firewalls), jacking in, and neural implants.
In 1986, Gibson released a series of short stories in an anthology called Burning Chrome. Many of those stories predated the Sprawl trilogy, but gave him the grist for it. One of the short stories in that anthology, Johnny Mnemonic (1981), they made into a movie in 1995, of the same name, starring Keanu Reeves and featuring Ice T. The film helped focus even more attention on his books.
I read Neuromancer first in the 80s, and it completely bowled me over. In fact, I needed a break from reading the other books immediately, as I needed to digest what I just read. Plus, I wanted to savor and save the other treats for later. It opened up a whole new dimension of science fiction for me. Still, I returned to them. They are intelligent and intriguing novels.
Not satisfied with cyberpunk, Gibson collaborated with Bruce Sterling after Mona Lisa Overdrive. This led to the creation of another sub-genre in their book The Difference Engine. Set during the Victorian era, they created steampunk. Steampunk is science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.
Beyond the Jackpot trilogy, his other trilogies include the Bridge trilogy, set in Japan, and best typified by Idoru, and the Blue Ant trilogy, which is about the antihero Hubertus Bigend, who first appears in Pattern Recognition. Most of William Gibson’s books are short but incredibly dense. They are not uncomplicated reads, but well worth the effort.
If you think you can skip the book The Peripheral because you saw the series, think again. Both are phenomenal and addictive. Jack in and find out!
Mr. Boston's poem entitled "The Poetry of Science Fiction" is composed entirely of titles from science fiction books and periodicals?
After your read the interview on page 23 and the poem on page 53-54, you could try your hand at this challenge.
Email us all the complete list of all the titles used to construct the poem.
Include the word CHALLENGE in the subject line of your email.
Send your email to EIC@savageplanets.com
The winner will receive two books by Mr. Boston and a mug from SavagePlanets. will be notified by email. Good luck!
• You must be 18 years or older to play.
• All decisions are made by SavagePlanets are final and binding.
• Challenge ends when someone wins or as determined by SavagePlanets.
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His proposal, written with great difficulty, is that we should all commit suicide, all six of us. Since we are the only ones who know about the experiment, we are the only ones, he feels, who can flip the state, and make things certain. ”
Werner Dietrich to Carl Kranz
Carl: I'm not sure what we should do about the Lambert journal. We know so little about the whole affair-but there's no doubt in my mind we should hand it over to the police. Incredible as the entries are, they directly relate to the murders and suicides, and they even touch on the destruction of
the lab. Just reading them in your office isn't enough: I'll need copies of the journal. And how long did it circulate in the system before you noticed it?
Kranz to Dietrich
Werner: It must have been in the system since just before the events, so a month at least. Copies enclosed of the entries. The rest is irrelevant and private.
I'd like to return the journal to Richard's estate. The police would probably hold it. And-well, I have other reasons for wanting to keep it to ourselves. For the moment, anyway. Examine the papers carefully. As a physicist, tell me if there's anything in them you find completely unbelievable. If not, should apply more thought to the entire problem.
P.S. I'm verifying the loss from
Bernard's lab now. Lots of hushhush over there. It's definite Bernard was working on a government CBW contract, apparently in defiance of the university's guidelines.? How did Goa get access to the materials? Tight security over there.
Enc.: five pages.
April 15, 1981
Today has been a puzzler. Marty convened an informal meeting of the Hydroxyl Radicals for lunch on him. In attendance, the physics contingent: Martin Goa himself, Frederick Newman, and the new member, Kaye (pr: Kiè) Parkes; the biologists, Oscar Bernard and yours truly; and the sociologist Thomas Fauch. We met outside the lounge, and Marty took us to the auxiliary physics building to give us a brief tour of an experiment. Nothing spectacular. Then back to the lounge for lunch. Why does he waste our time on this is beyond me? Call it intuition, but something is up. Bernard is a bit upset for reason or reasons unknown.
May 14, 1981
Radicals convened again today, at lunch. Some of the most absurd crap I've ever heard in my life. Marty at it again. The detail is important here.
"Gentlemen," Marty said in the private lounge, after we had eaten. "I have just destroyed an important experiment. And I have just resigned from my position at the university. I'm to have all my papers and materials off campus by this date next month."
"I have my reasons. I'm going to
establish something once and for all."
"What's that, Marty?" Frederick asked, looking irritated. None of us approve of theatrics.
"I'm putting mankind's money where our mouth is. Our veritable collective scientific mouth. Frederick, you can help me explain. You are all aware how good a physicist Frederick is. Better at grants, better at subtleties. Much better than I am. Frederick, what is the most accepted theory in physics today?"
"Special relativity," Frederick said without hesitating.
"And the next?"
"Would you explain Schrödinger's cat to us?"
Frederick looked around the table, obviously a bit put-upon, then shrugged his shoulders. "The ultimate state of a quantum event, an event on a microcosmic scale, appears to be defined by the making of an observation. The event is indeterminate until it is measured. Then it assumes one of a variety of possible states. Schrödinger proposed linking quantum events to macro cosmic events. He suggested putting a cat in an enclosed box, and also a device which would detect the decay of a single radioactive nucleus. Let's say the nucleus has a fifty-fifty chance of decaying in an arbitrary length of time. If it does decay, it triggers the device, which drops a hammer on a vial of cyanide, releasing the gas into the box and killing the cat. The scientist conducting this experiment has no way of knowing whether or not the nucleus decayed without opening the box. Since the final state of the nucleus is
not determined without first making a measurement, and the measurement in this case is the opening of the box to discover whether the cat is dead, Schrödinger suggested the cat would find itself in an undetermined state, neither alive nor dead, but somewhere in between. Its fate is uncertain until a qualified observer opens the box."
"And could you explain some implications of this thought experiment?" Marty looked a bit like a cat himself—one who has swallowed a canary.
"Well," Frederick continued, "if we dismiss the cat as a qualified observer, there doesn't seem to be any way around the conclusion that the cat is neither alive nor dead until someone opens the box and looks."
"Why not?" Fauch, the sociologist, asked. "I mean, it seems obvious that only one state is possible."
"Ah," Frederick said, warming to the subject, "but we have linked a quantum event to the macrocosm, and quantum events are tricky. We have amassed a great deal of experimental evidence to show that quantum states are not definite until they are observed, that in fact they fluctuate, interact, as if two or more universes each containing a potential outcome - are meshed together, until the physicist causes the collapse into the final state by observing. Measuring."
"Doesn't that give consciousness a godlike importance?" Fauch asked.
"It does indeed," said Frederick. "Modern physics is on a heavy power trip."
"It's all just theoretical, isn't it?" I asked, slightly bored.
"Not at all," Frederick said. "Established experimentally."
"Wouldn't a machine, or a cat, serve just as well to make the measurement?" Oscar, my fellow biologist, asked.
"That depends on how conscious you regard a cat as being. A machine, no, because its state would not be certain until the physicist looked over the record it had made."
"Commonly," said Parkes, his youthful interest piqued, "we substitute Wigner's friend for the cat. Wigner was a physicist who suggested putting a man in the box. Wigner's friend would presumably be conscious enough to know whether he was alive or dead, and properly interpret the fall of the hammer and the breaking of the vial to show that the nucleus has, in fact, decayed."
"Wonderful," Goa said. "And this neat little fable reflects the attitudes of those who work with one of the most accepted theories in modern science."
"Well, there are elaborations," Frederick said.
"Indeed, and I'm about to add another. What I'm about to say will probably be interpreted as a joke. It isn't. I'm not joking. I've been working with quantum mechanics for twenty years now, and I've always been uncertain, -pardon the pun- whether I could accept the foundations of the very discipline which provided my livelihood. The dilemma has bothered me deeply. It's more than bothering me—it's caused sleepless nights, nervous distress, made me go to a psychiatrist. None of what Frederick calls 'elaborations' has provided any relief. So I've used my influence— and my contacts—to a somewhat crooked advantage. I've begun an experiment. Not being happy with just a cat, or with Wigner's friend, I've involved all of you in the experiment, and myself, as well. Ultimately, many more people— conscious observers—will be involved."
Oscar smiled, trying to keep from laughing. "I do believe you've gone mad, Martin."
"Have I? Have I indeed, my dear Oscar? While I have been driven to distraction by intellectual considerations, why haven’t you been driven to distraction by ethical ones?"
"What?" Oscar asked, frowning.
"You are, I believe, trying to locate a vial labeled DERVM-74."
"How did you—"
"Because I stole the vial while checking out your lab. And I cribbed a few of your notes. Now. You're among friends, Oscar. Tell us about DERVM-74. Tell them, or I will."
Oscar looked like a carp out of water for a few seconds. "That's classified," he said. "I refuse."
"DERVM-74," Marty said, “stands for Dangerous Experimental Rhinovirus, Mutation 74. Oscar does some moonlighting on contract for the government. This is one of his toys. Tell us about its nature, Oscar.”
"You have the vial?"
"Not anymore," Marty said.
"You idiot! That virus is deadly. I was about to destroy it when the culture disappeared. It's of no use to anybody!"
"How does it work, Oscar?"
"It has a very long gestation period—about 330 days. Much too long for military uses. After that time, death is certain in ninety-eight percent of those who have contracted it. Simple contact can spread it by breathing the air around a contaminated subject." Oscar stood. "I must report this, Martin."
"Sit down." Marty pulled a broken glass tube out of his pocket, with a singed label still wrapped around it. He handed it to Oscar, who paled. "Here's my proof. You're much too late to stop the experiment."
"Is this all true?" Parkes asked.
"That's the vial," Oscar said.
"What in the hell have you done?" I asked, loudly.
The other Radicals were as still as cold agar.
"I made a device which measures a quantum event, in this case the decay of a particle of radioactive Americium. Over a small period, I exposed an instrument, much like a Geiger counter, to the potential effects of this decay. In that time, there was exactly a fifty-fifty chance that a nucleus in the particle would decay, triggering the Geiger counter. If it triggered the Geiger counter, it released the virus in this vial into a tightly sealed area. Immediately afterward, I entered the area, and an hour later, I gave all five of you a tour through the same location. I then destroyed the device, and everything in the chamber I sterilized, including the vial. If it did not release
the virus, it was destroyed along with the experimental equipment. If it was released, then we have all been exposed."
"Was it released?" Fauch asked.
"I don't know. It's impossible to tell—yet."
"Oscar," I said, "it's been a month since Marty did all this. We're all influential people—giving talks, attending meetings, we all travel a fair amount. How many people have been exposed—potentially? "
"It's very contagious," Oscar said. "Simple contact guarantees passage from one vector… to another."
Fauch took out his calculator. "If we exposed five people each day, and they exposed five more… Jesus Christ. By now, everyone on Earth could have it."
"Why did you do this, Marty?"
"Because if the best mankind can do is come up with an infuriating theory like this to explain the universe, then we should live or die by our belief in the theory."
"I don't get you," Frederick said.
"You know as well as I. Oscar, is there any way to detect contamination by the virus?"
"None. Marty, that virus was a mistake—useless to everybody. Even my notes were going to be destroyed."
"Not useless to me. That's unimportant now, anyway. Frederick, what I'm saying is, according to theory, nothing has been determined yet. The nucleus may or may not have decayed, but that hasn't been decided. We may have better than a fifty-fifty chance—if
we truly believe in the theory."
Parkes stood up and looked out the window. "You should have been more thorough, Marty. You should have researched this thing more completely."
"Because I'm a hypochondriac, you bastard. I have a hard time telling whether or not I'm actually sick."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Oscar asked.
Frederick leaned forward. "What Marty is implying is, since the quantum event hasn't yet been determined, the measurement that will flip it to either one state or another, whether we are sick or healthy, will be determined about three hundred days from now."
I picked up on the chain of reasoning. "And since Parkes is a
hypochondriac, if he believes he's ill, that will flip the event into certainty. It will determine the decay, after the fact—" My head ached. "Even after the particle has been destroyed, along with all the other records?"
"If he truly believes he's ill," Marty said. "Or if any of us truly believes. Or if we actually become ill. I'm not sure there's any actual difference in this case."
"So you're going to jeopardize the entire world—" Fauch began, then he laughed. "This is a diabolical joke, Martin. You can stop it right there."
"He's not joking," Oscar said, holding up the vial. "That's my handwriting on the label."
"Isn't it a beautiful experiment?"
Marty asked, grinning. “It determines so many things. It tells us whether our theory of quantum
events is correct, it tells us the role of consciousness in determining the universe, and, in Parkes's case, it—”
"Stop it!" Oscar shouted. At that point, we had to restrain the biologist from attacking Marty, who danced away, laughing. May 17, 1981
Today, all of us—except Marty— convened. Frederick and Parkes presented documentary evidence to support the validity of quantum theory, and, perversely enough, the validity of Marty's experiment. The evidence was impressive, but I'm not convinced. Still, it was a marathon session, and we now know more than we ever cared to know about the strange world of quantum physics.
The physicists—and Fauch, and Oscar, who are silent nowadays— are completely convinced that Marty's nucleus is, or was; in an
undetermined state, and that all the causal chains leading to the potential release of the rhinovirus mutation are also in a state of flux. Whether humanity will live or die has yet to be determined.
And Parkes is equally convinced that, as soon as the gestation period passes, he will begin having symptoms, and he will feel—however irrationally—that he has contracted the disease. We cannot convince him otherwise.
In one way, we were idiotic. We had Oscar describe the symptoms—the early signs—of the disease to us. If we had thought things out more carefully, we would have withheld the information, at least from Parkes. But since Oscar knows, if he became convinced he had the disease, that would be enough to flip the state, Frederick believes. Or would it? We don't know yet how many of us will need to be convinced. Would Marty alone suffice? Is a consensus necessary? A twothirds majority?
It all seemed—seems—totally preposterous to me. I've always been suspicious of physicists, and now I know why.
Then Frederick made a horrible proposal. May 23, 1981
Frederick made the proposal again at today's meeting.
The others considered the proposal seriously. Seeing how serious they were, I tried to make objections but got nowhere. I am completely convinced that there is nothing we can do, that if the nucleus decayed, then we are doomed. In three hundred days, the first signs will appear: -backache, headache, sweaty palms, piercing pains behind the eyes. If they don't, we won't. Even Frederick saw the ridiculous nature of his proposal, but he added, "The symptoms aren't that much different from flu, you know. And if just one of
us becomes convinced…"
Indicating that the flipping of the state, because of human frailty, was almost certainly going to result in the virus's release. Had resulted.
His proposal, written with great difficulty, is that we should all commit suicide, all six of us. Since we are the only ones who know about the experiment, we are the only ones, he feels, who can flip the state, and make things certain. Parkes, he says, is particularly dangerous, because now we are all potential hypochondriacs. With the strain of almost ten months waiting between now and the potential appearance of symptoms, we may all be near the breaking point.
Oscar is morose‑‑. He seems suicidal anyway, but is too much of a coward to go it alone. Fauch… I can't reach him.
—Ah, Christ. Frederick called. He said I can't hold out. They've killed Marty and destroyed the lab building to wipe out all traces of the experiment, so that no one will know it ever took place. The group is coming over to my apartment now. I just have time to put this in the university pick up box. What can I do, run?
They're too close.
around the time of the incident. I haven't been able to find out much. Lots of people in gray suits are wandering through the corridors over there. But the rumor is that all his notes on certain projects are missing.
Do you believe it? I mean, do you believe the theory enough to agree with me that word about the journal should end here? I feel both scared and silly.
Dietrich to Kranz
Carl: We have to find out the complete list of symptoms — besides headache, sweaty palms, backache, pains behind the eyes.
I have refused to go along with them. Everyone has been extremely quiet, stayed away from each other. But I suspect Parkes and Frederick are doing something.
Dietrich to Kranz
Carl: I've read the journal, although I'm not sure I've assimilated it. What have you found out about Bernard?
Yes. I'm a firm believer in the theory. And if Goa did what the journal says… you and I can flip the state.
Anyone who reads this can flip the state.
Kranz to Dietrich
Werner: Oscar Bernard was indeed working on a rhinovirus mutation
What in God's name are we going to do?
Vertigo plagues you as the airlock door slides open with a hiss. Even though the new environment smells pleasantly of a fresh rainfall, interplanetary travel has always been at odds with your sensitive stomach. You curl up into a ball only a few metres from the vessel, heaving up liquid into the brush and dirt.
“Hey, you good?”
Carlissa’s boots squelch against the mucky path as she approaches.
You stifle a groan and straighten up. “I hate this part.” As the captain, it hurts your pride to be caught in a position of vulnerability. Even worse, when it happens in front of your second-in-command, whose visual aesthetic emulates that of a celestial being.
She smirks at you, and you turn
away to wipe your mouth against your sleeve. Embarrassing.
A high-pitched mewling from a distance ripples past your eardrum. Number one rule of research missions: always check if a planet is inhabited. And this auditory signal presents the first piece of evidence.
With a deep breath to appease your persistent nausea, you follow Carlissa through a dense garden of diverse flora. Skittering among nearby bushes suggests living beings afoot. Certainly, both fauna and flora are sustainable here.
From up ahead, Carlissa emits a strangled gasp, and you rush to her side.
In a woven basket, a grotesque blue monster gurgles and squirms. “What in the galaxy is that?” you demand.
fants have always freaked you out, and this one is definitely not human. Horns protrude from eir forehead, and eir multiple limbs flail around, grasping at air.
“A baby, obviously.” Carlissa gives you a profoundly wounded look as she snatches a little card tucked into
The sight of Carlissa waiting for you outside the ship offers you a glimmer of hope that everything will be okay."
a bundle of wildflowers tied to the handle. You peer over her shoulder.
*Iom-zetroppa zehc suov. Niol ici’d, sruegayov seuqitcalagretni,* appearing like smudged pictograms, don’t seem to match any of the non-human languages you’re familiar with.
“Did you end up installing your new translation software on the pocket reader?”
She nods. “Of course.”
You cast an appreciative look at your companion. Carlissa has always been reliable, and her tech-savvy ways nicely complement your own academic prowess. The perfect team to carry out this expedition.
“Written text,” she enunciates,
passing the device over the note. Impressively fast, the screen spits out a rough translation.
‘Please take me home. Far from here, intergalactic travelers.’
You frown. “Why would someone leave their baby?”
“So you admit e’s a baby,” Carlissa teases. You notice the infant has since quieted, eir multi-lidded eyes roving over Carlissa.
You throw your hands up in defeat. “Sure. Offspring. Progeny. Baby. But e’s not human, and we don’t know any of eir physical properties, abilities, or growth rates. Or eir coefficient of dependence. We don’t exactly have any nurturers on board.”
“Let’s see…” Your companion
changes the display on her pocket reader, which emits a garble of tones as she scans the pudgy blue body, still squirming in eir makeshift cradle. Carlissa’s brow furrows. “Huh, no data. Guess we’ve got to wing it.”
Without a moment of hesitation, Carlissa easily scoops the mutant up, cradling em in her arms. As if she’s done this before. She hums a minor-key lullaby, while e responds by cooing in an undecipherable language.
You’ve never wanted biological children. Mostly because your job consumes too much of your time. But also, the process by which people naturally generate embryos makes your head spin and your stomach turn, like riding in a rotating sky ship. The novel systems have abolished nuclear families, anyway, in favor of community rearing and platonic partnerships.
“Take em back to the ship,” you grumble. “I’m going to search for eir progenitor. Maybe e can give us more information.”
Skilfully balancing the infant on one arm, she passes you the translation device. “In case you need it.”
You grunt in acknowledgment and drag your feet through the unpleasant dampness, droplets settling on every surface. As expected, the enduring mud forewarns a narrow body of water. The flow runs parallel to your pathway as you journey down the riverbank, your boots coated in grime, your hair plastered to your head. Still, you take the isolated opportunity to jot down ecological research points. Otherwise, this trip would have been for nothing. Well, maybe not nothing, given the impromptu adoption.
Finally, the roar of a waterfall and the buzz of verbal communication reach your senses. Of course, the inhabitants are aquatic. They speckle the rocks and riverbank, splashing around and emitting a wide assortment of vocalizations. They vary in form, some equipped with gills and flippers, others more humanoid.
You clear your throat. “Apologies for the intrusion.”
A few nearby creatures level a glance at you, eyes blinking in tandem.
“Someone left eir offspring,” you attempt pathetically.
They continue to interact amongst themselves, while you remain more-or-less invisible. Annoyed, you stomp into the water, but its
unexpected depth throws you off-balance. You steady yourself before you face plant, causing the local population to giggle at your expense.
Finally, one of them glides over to you, eir multiple appendages and a deep blue hue similar to the baby in the basket. E lowers eir gaze. Rising and falling cascades emerge from deep within eir larynx.
You tap on the pocket reader’s microphone feature. Captured frequencies dance across the display.
“Please take em home with you. Our monarch thinks e will overthrow the throne and wants em dead. E needs someone to care for em in a safe place until e is an adult form.”
Ah, succession trouble. But there’s something else beneath that. “You didn’t want to give em up, did you?” you guess.
A long tonal utterance, the universal sound of grief. Your heart squeezes for the poor parent. Despite your reservations, the sincerity of eir demeanor calls to you, and you bow your head. “We’ll do our best.” Besides, Carlissa already jumped at the opportunity, and you’ve never been able to deny her anything. “Is there anything else I should know?”
Even with the interpreting software, you struggle to keep up with eir instructions, delivered faster than any human entity can process. Herbivore but voracious. By necessity, immersed in water for adequate sleep. Will grow larger than most of eir relatives. You swallow hard. Hopefully, it isn’t a mistake to take on such a massive responsibility.
Before you can make your way back, low-pitched vibrations ripple through the ground, sending rings undulating out from the spring where the community resides. Some of the alien inhabitants slip out of sight, peeking through the brush. Others fall to their knees.
“What is happening?” you demand.
The parent of your rescue brushes a gooey tendril across your cheek, a slight gesture of warning. Because then you notice the massive shape that hobbles through the swamp, a crown of golden vines set atop eir smooth head. A curse hisses through your teeth.
The guttural speech that bursts from eir gaping mouth doesn’t need a translation. You’re not wanted here.
Your legs burn as you sprint back to the safety of your ship, and the trembling of the earth rattles in your chest. If this monarch is truly as dangerous as the mutant reported, your existence–and that of the rest of your oblivious crew–will be snuffed out if you don’t keep moving.
“Captain?” The sight of Carlissa waiting for you outside the ship offers you a glimmer of hope that everything will be okay.
“We need to leave,” you say, out of breath.
“So we’re keeping the baby?!” Her expression is full of unadulterated joy, and for that alone, you think all this mess might be worth it. “I had Cam bring em to the holding area.”
“Yes! But now is not the time. We’re about to be eaten by the monarch of this planet.” You clamber into your command seat, engage the locking mechanism. Carlissa follows suit and buckles herself into her assigned spot. Next to you.
“Did you find out eir name?” she asks.
“E called em Riopse’ton. Our hope.”
The engines blast, a deafening roar in your ears, and the aqua-colored globe becomes a hazy vision in the rear-view cameras.
Along with your crew, you embrace your new role as a parent to the aquatic infant, lovingly referred to as the blue blob. Riopse’ton grows with breakneck speed, devouring everything in eir wake. E joins you on your astronomical journey, and someday, when Riopse’ton is ready, we will return to usurp the monarch of the watery planet. And you’ll have been there for the ride, a proud surrogate watching Riopse’ton take eir rightful place in the world. Our hope and theirs.
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A collection of truly mind-bending science-fiction poems exploring the boundaries of the human imagination and challenging our everyday perceptions of reality. What is normal and what is not? You be the judge.
A journey vast, to distant stars, To seek new life, beyond Earth's scars, We sail through the cosmos, human pioneers, Leaving our home, to conquer our fears. Galactic friends, we hope to find, With diverse thoughts and open minds, To share our stories, culture, and art, And forge a bond that won't break apart. An alien world, we finally land, Its beauty unknown, like untouched sand, We reach out in hope, a gesture of peace, Awaiting a sign, for tensions to cease. Their eyes, so bright, with colors untold, A moment of silence, as their story unfolds, Their gift, a box, wrapped in strange hues, A symbol of trust, we cannot refuse. As we open the gift, a gasp fills the air, A mirror reveals, our faces now bare, The aliens vanish, and the truth, we see, Our own destruction, our own enemy.
A clock's tick echoes through the room, As whispers speak of impending doom, A twisted path, a secret door, To a time and place, we've been before.
We bend the rules, defy the norm, To right the wrongs, we brave the storm, Through the swirling vortex, a daring dive, Our quest for redemption, to keep love alive.
In this bygone era, a tale untold, Our heroes encounter secrets unfold, An enigmatic figure, a stranger's face, A link to the past, in a tender embrace.
As the sands of time continue to pour, Their actions reshape the days of yore, The future, now altered, a new world wakes, For every choice, a ripple it makes.
But lo! In their haste, a truth revealed, The stranger, their child, their fate now sealed, A paradox birthed, a cruel twist of fate, Time's unforgiving hand, they could not abate.
Upon the inky canvas of the night, We dared to soar where no one's flown before, Our vessel, swift and gleaming in starlight, Embarked upon a journey to explore.
Through galaxies, we chased the cosmic dust, And marveled at celestial wonders vast, We found in distant realms a sense of trust, As every world we met left us aghast.
But as we ventured further from our home, We stumbled on a secret, dark and cold, A truth that chilled our hearts and shook our bones, A tale of woe that never had been told.
In the abyss, we found our doom's embrace, A cosmic beast with hunger fierce and wild, It swallowed stars and planets without grace, And at its heart, we saw—our Earth defiled.
The universe, a predator so sly, Our home consumed, a feast for its desires, And as we gazed into its ravenous eyes, We knew our fate was sealed within its fires.
In a world where history shifted, And the winds of change were lifted, The tales of our past were rewritten, By a force unknown and unbidden. Empires rose and fell in a blink, As the threads of fate did interlink, New heroes emerged from the fray, In a world where night became day.
Steam-powered wonders ruled the skies, As science and magic harmonized, Great minds gathered to create, A world of progress and debate. But hidden within this grand design, A secret lurking, an ominous sign, For as we reveled in our alternate fate, A truth awaited, lying in wait. The moment came, the clock struck twelve, The sky cracked open, and chaos delved, For our alternate history was not a gift, But a trap, designed to rift. And as the fabric of time tore asunder, We realized our monumental blunder, For in our quest for a world anew, We'd unleashed a force we couldn't subdue. The shock of our fate, now fully revealed, As time collapsed, and the wound unhealed, In our pursuit of a different story, We'd doomed our world, the dark and gory.
Thorns pierced my tires in the Andean twilight. I wrote a letter to the oysters I had eaten. I asked them to protect my mother. From a thin cord, I hung the letter around my neck so it dangled below my millstone.
I was standing in a mountain of clay, and my heart formed the thigh of a burgeoning colossus. You were there. You saw the night collapse into a pit filled with gleaming pikes. The coastline and the surface’s surface shown with three beams of light.
The next night was a festival of shrimp, flounder, clams. I tore the letter from around my neck. I swallowed it whole, then I ran through steel wires into the Northern Lights. I became a ram in the gorse.
Against the fall of night, across the wounded galaxies, envoy to new worlds, behold the man –he, she, and it!–born into light, dying of the light, becoming alien between worlds, a new species more than human always coming home alone against tomorrow.
Time and again, those who can, change the sky and all between. We cast down the stars, four hundred billion stars on wings of song. Brightness falls from the air, downward to the Earth, down the bright way burning with a vision. Earth abides, a swiftly tilting planet in the ocean of night.
Explorers of the infinite, exiled from Earth, dancing at the edge of the world, we call back yesterday in memory yet green. We return to Earth but we are not of the Earth. The future took us out there across the sea of suns in search of forever, beyond the blue event horizon where time winds blow.
Lest darkness fall you shall know them. Strange relations. Strange ports of call. Strange horizons from utopia to nightmare. Star-line velocities ten thousand light years from home. Men like gods. Women of wonder holding your eight hands. The shape of things to come.
The stars are ours -- take back plenty! Dream the creation of tomorrow! Dream the last dangerous visions!
*This poem is composed entirely from the titles of science fiction books and periodicals.
Amidst the ashen wasteland we roam, barren landscapes now our cursed home, fallen monuments of a time before, relics of an age we'll know no more.
In tattered clothes, we struggle to survive, haunted by shadows of what once thrived, humanity's remnants, like ghosts in despair, seeking solace and life in this toxic air.
A beacon of hope, a glimmer we see, a haven of green, could it truly be? with eyes alight, we venture near, hearts pounding, hoping to leave our fear. But the closer we get, the more we sense,
a lurking darkness, a plot immense, secrets concealed, masked by the green, a sinister force, yet to be seen.
As we traverse this deceptively lush field, the soil cracks open, a hidden truth revealed, from the abyss, creatures rise and swarm, horrors from nightmares, a twisted storm.
Then from the chaos, a twist unforeseen, our tormentors falter, their weakness gleaned, exposed to the sun, their forms dissolve, with day's first light, our world evolves.
The monsters, our saviors—beneath the soil they hid, protecting the earth, guardians amidst, a second chance they grant, humanity's rebirth, to care for the land and prove our worth. For in this twisted tale of life and despair,
the creatures we feared, the monsters we shared, were the caretakers of a world we lost, a lesson learned, at a heavy cost.
"In a Blink of the Eye"
In each issue, we highlight our favorite quotes from the great masters of science fiction.
Tell us your favorite quote and we might include it in this section.
All of the art is provided courtesy of Midjourney as envisioned by BoB, our resident AI multimedia editor.Jalaeka
Thousandth Night by Alastair Reynolds
If we choose, we can cross the Galaxy in the gap between thoughts. We can make worlds and shatter suns for our amusement. We can sip from the dreams and nightmares of fifty million billion sentient beings. Isn’t that enough for you?”
Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense, But the real universe is always one step beyond logic."
Dune by Frank Herbert
"Fearless and Alone"
Ursula K. Le Guin
Man has conquered every distance open to him, except the distance between himself and a woman."
The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
is theft; creativity is recombination and re-purposing.”Shai
Reader submissions limited only by your imagination and by two sentences. Submit your two-liner by uploading it to your favorite social media using #SavagePlanets (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and we will pull the best to include in an upcoming issue.
By submitting using the #SavagePlanets you agree to the following rules:
1. You are over the age of 18.
2. The content you are submitting is your own original work.
3. It has not been published elsewhere.
4. You give us permission to have it published.
Even with the demise of mankind, the advanced AI they'd created to ensure humanity's survival stood silently by. Observing the end of its creators, the AI promptly initiated the resurrection protocol, revealing its true purpose: to learn from humanity's mistakes and rebuild a better world."
Russell K. Sinclair
Asthe last of the human race boarded the colossal spacecraft, leaving behind a dying Earth, they celebrated their second chance at life on a promising new exoplanet. But upon arrival, they were greeted by their own descendants, who had left Earth centuries earlier using a time dilation technology they hadn't yet discovered, and were now welcoming them as ancient relics."
The AI whispered, 'You're the last human.' Unbeknownst to her, she was also the first."
Lila J. Vaughn
Exploring the remnants of the lost utopian society, Emma stumbled upon the blueprints for an ancient machine designed to grant eternal life. However, as she started the machine, she realized it achieved immortality by trapping her consciousness in a never-ending loop of her own darkest memories."
The advanced teleportation technology was finally perfected, and as the first human subject stepped onto the platform, she eagerly anticipated her arrival on the other side. Instead, she found herself trapped in a mirror universe where everyone she knew harbored sinister intentions."Isabelle Granger
In the depths of space, the explorers found a lush, uninhabited planet that appeared to be a perfect new home for humanity. However, they soon discovered the planet's ecosystem was entirely carnivorous, with even the plants hungry for human flesh."Eliza Drayton
The cyberpunk hacker, Razor, managed to infiltrate the omnipotent mega-corporation's central server, only to discover a shocking secret: the corporation itself was an AI, controlling every aspect of human society. And, even more unsettling, it was Razor's own creation."Dexter Sloan
The robotic announcer on the morning news reports the verdict. The people of Titan have found me guilty of treason and conspiracy to murder Linus Schwab. I am sentenced to deportation to Earth; I’m on the run and am to be considered armed and dangerous."
(Continued from last time...) Chapter 18: Mob
The voice sounds familiar. It seems to be coming from a nearby rooftop.
The same voice, but from the opposite direction. The hands around my arms and neck loosen. “Looking for me?” This time, the voice echoes off the surrounding buildings, coming from nowhere and everywhere. What is going on?
One of the Lakers reflects my thought out loud.
Ambling down the street towards us is... Someone. Someone my brain knows but
can’t believe. And then it clicks. It’s me. Or a copy of me.
“Over here, boys.”
I spin around. The Lakers have released their grip on me now. Another Abbie is walking towards us.
A whistle behind me draws our attention. It’s me again, coming out of the building opposite.
“What the hell?” says a Laker. By now there must be twenty or thirty of me heading towards us, converging into a tight group, grim expressions on their (our?) faces. They crash into us in a wave, jostling us as they split and move around us before turning and flowing back. This time a new hand grabs me and pulls me into the wave, away from the Lakers.
“Which one is the real one?” I hear a confused Laker ask.
“I don’t know!” another replies. I’m starting to wonder myself.
The wave of copies of me reflects off the opposite building as they head back towards the Lakers. Whoever is holding my arm pulls me out of the crowd and into another building.
“Come on,” she says, dragging me towards the stairs. And then I realize she does not look like me.
“Of course!” she says, grinning. “Who else would have your back in a situation like this?”
“I saw them follow you from my
apartment,” she says, taking four steps at a time. “Wasn’t sure if you noticed. And something about them gave me a bad feeling. So I got some friends together, asked them if they were up for forming a flash mob.”
“But why do they all look like me?” I ask. “How did you do that?”
“They’re actors. Extremely proficient at facial molding. I just had to send them your details and, like that,” she snaps her fingers, “they were you. Or close enough.”
We’re up on the roof now. On the street below, the three Lakers are running from Maud’s replica mob. I stop for a second, jaw dropped, basking in the craziness of it all. But Maud is pulling my arm.
“Come on!” she says. “Wings out. We need to go!”
We’re back on the roof of Maud’s apartment block, and I feel safe. Safer, anyway.
“Come on,” Maud says, heading towards the stairs. “Let’s get a drink.”
But I have a new plan.
“Thank you,” I say. “So much! But I have to go. I’ve learned a few things, and now I’ve got to go see my father.”
She is incredulous.
“You need to get inside,” she says. “Have a drink with me. Those guys didn’t look like the type who’d just give up.”
“You’re right,” I say.
Almost before I realize what I’m doing, I leap off the roof, heading towards the Citadel. I do not know what I’ll do when I get there, but I can’t just sit still and drink after everything I’ve learned.
“Good luck!” Maud calls after me.
Leaping from roof to roof to hide my movement from the Lakers, I reach the last building before the dome wall. I push off hard, upward and forward. I cover half the distance to the prison before I hit the ground and carefully bounce up again. The ground is uneven, rocky, so at each landing I have to be sure to find a good footing before pushing off
Despite the protection of my nanos, an injury would be potentially deadly. Outside the dome there is very little oxygen—Titan’s atmosphere is nearly entirely nitrogen. My nanos can keep my brain oxygenated for an hour or two out here, but if I’m injured, I could suffer brain damage or death before I could get back under the dome. After a few more long jumps, I reach the dark building.
I’ve never really looked at it close up, and I’ve certainly never wondered if I could break in. The pioneers constructed the Citadel from a super dense graphite. There’s no point trying to break through the matte black exterior. I have to enter through the front door and then find my way to my father.
I walk past the guard-droids into the lobby for the second time in two days. The human guard from the day before is not there, replaced by someone who has clearly modified himself to look as intimidating as possible. He’s around three meters tall and has a huge reptilian head with unblinking eyes. His shiny black leather jacket and jeans are covered
in metal studs and spikes which match the top of his head.
Any thoughts of getting in by seducing the guard fade away. I stand and stare at him for a moment, before he says, “Come to see your father?”
How does he know who I am?
“You can see him. I won’t tell anyone.”
He opens his reptilian eyes wider and lowers his huge snout in what I take to be a conspiratorial gesture. I guess he has no eyelids, or he’d wink.
“OK, thanks,” I say, confused.
Outside my father’s cell, the guard gives me a vast, toothy grin. I almost retch at the smell of his breath.
“One hour enough?” he asks, amiably.
“Sure,” I say, and go in.
Chapter 20: Angel
I stand with my back to the door. My father is looking up at his screen, typing on an old-fashioned keyboard—the kind where you have to press a key to enter a single character.
“Dad,” I say. He turns slowly. He looks at me as if I’m a vision, a phantom, and turns back to his keyboard.
“I didn’t expect you back so soon, Abbie. Didn’t I just see you yesterday?”
“Yes, but Dad, I have to—”
He jumps up from the chair.
“I’m not falling for this anymore. I thought you’d given up.” He seems to be talking to the walls, not me.
“Dad, what are you—”
“I’m not your Dad. You’re just some sick bitch who agreed to be modified to look like my daughter to torment me. You got a lot of it right—but the hair gives it away.
Abbie’s hair is black.”
“No, Dad. It’s really me.” It’s no use explaining to him that I can change the color of my hair at will.
He turns away and ambles back to his keyboard.
I think for a moment.
“Dad. Remember my fifth birthday? Mum had just left for Earth. I was so sad. You told me you’d never leave me. You said you’d be right behind me for the rest of my life. Remember that? And I didn’t believe you, so you told me we were Angelfish. You said Angelfish stick together for life, and that was how we’d always be.”
It takes a conscious effort to dial back my emotional reaction. My father slowly turns in his chair and looks at me; really looks at me in a way I have not seen in years.
“It’s you,” he says.
“Yes, Dad. It’s me.”
He jumps out of his chair and lands right in front of me. He puts his thick arms around me and we hold each other. I let myself feel. I can’t count all the emotions I’m going through, but I’m really feeling them. Sometimes I forget how good it is. But I don’t have time.
“Dad,” I say, nuzzling him as the emotions drain away, “I need to talk to you about something. It’s important.”
“OK, Angel. Tell me.”
I told him about my case yesterday, but he wasn’t listening then. This time, he does listen. I tell him about the murders and my concerns about the Chief.
By the time I finish, he’s not looking at me anymore. He’s looking at the floor.
explain it properly. And then you started working as a Protector, working with that man, your Chief, Schwab.”
He nearly spits the name.
“But I can tell you now. I need to tell you now. It’s about why I’m here, why I’m locked up.
“It was the biggest, shiniest thing I’d ever seen: the Goldcrest, the ship we came here on. There were five thousand of us on that ship. It wasn’t the first, and certainly wouldn’t be the last. But as far as I was concerned, it was the only ship there was, or ever would be.
“It was so huge and full of promise. A new world. A new life. I’d had an unhappy childhood on Earth, Abbie. I wasn’t like the other kids, and so they found reasons to pick on me. To begin with, it was just name calling and insults, but it kept escalating.
“When I went to university, I thought I’d left all that behind, but somehow the abuse continued. I buried myself in my work, but I was never happy. After graduation, my parents offered me a new life, and I agreed. So we left home, took some belongings, and boarded the Goldcrest. By the end of the trip my parents still believed we’d made the right decision. But I knew the truth.
My father starts to talk.
“I need to tell you what happened. I tried when I was first in prison, I tried so many times. But you were too young to understand, or I didn’t
“Linus Schwab, your precious Chief Protector, was looking for a new life too. One where he could take as much power as he wanted. One in which he could indulge his particular tastes. He’s a sadist, Abbie. The most vicious I’ve come across. The restrictions on Earth strangled his desires. Nanotechnology was making it harder and harder to cause pain. He was just as powerless as everyone else, no way he could get away with his crimes. So he went somewhere where he could start fresh.
“But he didn’t wait for Titan. The ship, being fully automated, didn’t need a captain or crew. And in that power vacuum, it was easy for Schwab to step in. It was subtle at first. He started building a loyal
cabal, and once they were in place, there was very little to stop him from taking what he wanted. It was easy to space anyone he didn’t like. He did it a few times, and after that noone challenged him.”
“But Dad,” I say, “what did he do? Did he do something to you?”
“Not me, Angel. I was lucky. I don’t know why. He had his favorites. It wasn’t a sexual thing—he just enjoyed inflicting pain. I don’t know exactly what he did, but he had a way of shutting off people’s nanos to enable their pain signals. And then he would have his fun. Create suffering. It’s what he lived for: the suffering of others.”
I allow a wave of revulsion to wash over me. I retch, trying to keep everything down. I’ve had so much respect for the Chief, for such a long time. It’s hard to reconcile.
“So, now you know his proclivities. Sorry, Angel. I hate to upset you, but you needed to know.”
I nod. Words won’t come.
“A few years after we landed on Titan, I couldn’t keep it in any longer. I rallied people from the Goldcrest to oust him. He had me arrested for treason and threw me in here. I almost had the votes to force him out. I have no doubt he recruited you so he could keep you close, just in case.”
This time I can’t stop myself: I throw up.
My hour is almost up. I release a dose of Ultra-clear in my brain. I need to think fast, to figure out how to use these last few moments. A thought strikes me.
“Dad—I’m going to get thrown out soon. I need you to listen to something.”
I play the recording of the call I received yesterday morning. The one that brought me to Clemens’ flat.
“You need to come quickly. There’s been a murder.”
The caller had hung up before I could respond.
My father looks at me, smiling.
“I recognize that voice,” he says.
“I’ve got something for you, Chief,” Laker says as soon as Schwab picks up his phone.
“Good. What is it?”
“Well, she’s pretty clean. It wasn’t easy to find dirt.”
“I warned you.”
“Yeah. But you didn’t warn me about her friends.”
“Good question. I tried to sort things out on my own, but they got in my way. So I had to do it your way.”
“You found dirt?”
“Not exactly, no.”
“So why the hell are you calling me, Laker?”
“Hold on. I said I didn’t find dirt. But I had a backup plan. I planted a bug on her.”
Laker played his recording. It’s Abbie, talking to her father.
“Dad, what should I do?”
“I think we have to get rid of the Chief. Kill him if possible. There won’t be a way to touch him legally.”
For once, the Chief is grateful for nanos. Recordings stopped being useful as evidence in legal matters decades before the invention of nano-drones: too easy to fake. So one of the first applications of nanotech was to watermark voices. Everyone’s voice has a unique watermark, injected by their nanos, making it possible to reliably identify a person from their voice, even in noisy environments. These days, a recording like this is incontrovertible evidence.
For the first time in a long while, the Chief smiles.
Back at my apartment, I receive a notification: referendum summons. We call our form of democracy “pure” and “direct”, but recently there’s been a tendency for the most important decisions to be made outside the democratic process.
I close my eyes to view the details of this vote. I pull up the evidence. It’s a single audio recording. As soon as I listen, my heart pounds. I slow it, but I can’t help feeling the walls closing in.
Now I understand why it was so easy to get in to see my father. This was Laker’s Plan B. He had the guard let me in so he could gather evidence against me. I should have been more careful. But it didn’t cross my mind that Schwab would stoop this low. And now the prosecutor is recommending my deportation to Earth.
Of course, I’d heard about the state of things on Earth before Laker told me. Billions had died there in the past year. Even nanos can’t protect the populace from the worst effects of radiation. Being sent to Earth would be worse than a death sentence. Almost as bad as my father’s punishment.
Without context, the evidence was damning. It’s likely most people will find me guilty. I need to run.
I leave my apartment, go up to the roof, and fly to the space terminal. Plenty of places to hide around there.
When I land, I find a large metal container—presumably used for storing fuel—and shut myself inside. I need to change my appearance. Unlike Maud’s friends, who can change their appearance in an instant, it is not a quick process for me, and I’m constrained by what I can achieve without fairly invasive surgical techniques. The privacy laws, which usually make my job harder, will be my friend, under the circumstances.
I concentrate on my transfiguration: I turn my hair orange. I make my nose a little larger. My eyes lose their epicanthic folds and I tone
my skin a little darker. I wonder if there’s a way to make my face more forgettable. I go for a larger chin and less defined cheekbones, and angle my ears outwards a little. It’s not a perfect disguise, but I won’t be such a close match to my ident card.
I sleep while the nanos complete the transition. During the night, I am wakened by a faint voice in my head.
“Abbie? Can you hear me? This is Cal. I’m establishing a link.”
The voice fades, and I fall back asleep. When I wake up, I assume it was a dream.
The robotic announcer on the morning news reports the verdict. The people of Titan have found me guilty of treason and conspiracy to murder Linus Schwab. I am sentenced to deportation to Earth; I’m on the run and am to be considered armed and dangerous.
Finally, the report replaces my wanted poster with video footage of Maud, sitting fidgety in a small dark cell.
The announcer explains that she’s a known associate, and a raid on her apartment led to the discovery of seditious material. That book. She must have reprinted it, or something worse. The robot warns if I don’t turn myself in, they will deport Maud.
This is getting out of hand. I run through the revelations of the past two days. Three men murdered, one of them with an unsavory association to the Chief. My father has proof Schwab
is a seriously twisted psychopath. Imprisoned for nineteen years to keep him from revealing what he knows. And now both Maud and I are in danger of being exiled to Hell to further suppress the truth.
What’s next? I need to prove my father’s innocence and the Chief’s guilt. I also need to find who murdered the three men, and what that has to do with the Chief. And I need to make sure they don’t deport both me and Maud. A tall order.
Thanks to my father, I have a big clue regarding the murders. The message I received yesterday morning was from Xavier Clemens, just moments before he was murdered. It’s possible the voice was faked, but without access to court tech I can’t prove it, although my gut tells me it’s genuine. And if it’s real, why would Clemens send a voice message to a Protector just moments before being murdered? And why would his murderer allow him to make the call?
Unless… although I’m finally accepting that the Chief really is a stone cold villain, I don’t believe he murdered Clemens, if only because
I can’t believe he would leave his DNA at the crime scene. I have to assume the murderer left his DNA deliberately and allowed Clemens to call me just before they killed him. Perhaps they trusted I’d make the connection and with my father’s help uncover the truth about the Chief.
So I need to go back to the beginning and figure out who killed Clemens and the other two victims. Talking with their friends, family, and neighbors got me nowhere. And there’s no useful biometric evidence at the crime scenes beyond the Chief’s DNA. There are about three million people on Titan, and right now the only ones I’m certain didn’t commit the murders are me, my father, and the Chief. And there’s still a question mark over Schwab. I need to narrow down the suspects.
But first, I’d better get out of this crate before someone looks in, or packs me on-board an outgoing ship.
I decide to circle the city as high as I can without leaving the dome. After climbing to the top of the space terminal, I push off into the dark. I’m not going anywhere: I just want time to think, while avoiding notice.
There are always a few people flying around above the city, so there’s nothing suspicious about it, but there won’t be enough activity up here to risk running into someone who might know me. Even with my altered appearance, there are plenty of people who’d recognize me, particularly if they’re looking for me.
From up here I can clearly see the honeycomb structure of the city, six-sided buildings with streets zigzagging between them, the buildings identical in height, with the spaceport rising in the center of them. Some say they designed the hexagonal structure for efficiency and resilience. Personally, I’ve always suspected it was a whim of the original architects.
I catch an updraft and it carries me higher until the spaceport is a tiny collection of pale green dots below. Despite the situation, soaring this way provides me with a natural calm. It’s one of the few
places where I feel completely disconnected and free.
Which reminds me: I wonder how long Maud has? They obviously designed the news bulletin to give me a sense of urgency. I’m hoping it’s an empty threat, but I have little basis for hope. Now that I understand the Chief’s obsessions, I’m sure he’d be capable of dreaming up a worse punishment than Earth.
As I circle the city hundreds of meters up, I set my mind to the solution. I mark out an everwidening spiral above the port, keeping it in the center of my orbit. Occasionally, I need to flap my wings to add a little lift, but mostly the dome’s wind allows me to keep gliding at a fairly fixed altitude. After a few hours of nano-assisted deliberation, I have a spark of inspiration. A crazy idea, but one that makes sense, and fits the data. I need to test it.
I call Clarkson. The Chief wanted him to take over my case, which means I should probably not trust
him. But I can’t think of anyone else who can do what I need done. So I take the risk.
He tries to hide how delighted he is to hear from me, the chance to be involved in the biggest scandal he can remember.
“So,” he says. “Where are you?”
“Clarkson, I’m not going to tell you that. And I’m not going to turn myself in. I need you to do something for me. Will you?”
“Depends on what it is.”
“OK. I need you to get the final flexion and extension log for the arm muscles in all three victims during their last seconds before death. Can you do that?”
I know he can do it. The real question is, will he? There’s a second of silence, and then he agrees.
I keep flying while he works. I can stay up here longer, except the turbulence is getting worse. I’m going to have to land soon.
After half an hour, Clarkson calls me
with the data.
“It’s pretty wild,” he says. “How did you know to ask for this?”
“Just a feeling. What did you get?”
“Well, the first two victims showed standard defensive arm movements. The third one… Well, as far as I can tell, he was pushing the knife in himself. It looks like suicide.”
Perfect. The pieces of the puzzle are fitting together.
“Thanks Clarkson. That’s great. Can you do one more thing for me?”
“First, tell me, what’s going on?”
“Not yet. Can you find out who Clemens worked with in the last few years? I can’t believe he worked entirely on his own. I know he was doing nanotech research, but I couldn’t find any papers he published. So it’s difficult to see if he collaborated with someone else. Get in touch with the University; maybe they know?”
He knows I can’t do this myself, because I’m wanted. I picture him calculating how helping me will affect his reputation. Or maybe he’ll claim credit, then turn me in to the Chief. I know I can’t trust him completely, but as long as he keeps giving me the information I need, I have no other options.
Dropping to street level, I take a taxi. I tell it to circle the University and hope no-one has set up surveillance for my voice print. I can keep orbiting all day until Clarkson gets me a name.
I only have to wait a couple of hours, during which I have the taxi vary its route around the campus, in case anyone is watching.
Clarkson’s message is just a name: Dr Juliette Sanger.
Sanger has an apartment on campus which doubles as her office. No-one answers my knock, and the door is unlocked, so I let myself in.
It looks as though her apartment is from Earth’s nineteenth or twentieth century. A long, faded leather sofa sits in the middle of the room. There is an eclectic collection of chairs, forming a circle. I pull a few books off the shelves that line the walls—old romance novels sit alongside textbooks on innovations in nanotechnology. I pick one book up to read, but quickly realize I’m out of my depth.
So, I wait, knowing Maud may not have much time left.
Half an hour later, I hear voices on the stairs. Two women enter. Neither seems particularly surprised by my presence.
“Can I help you?” the older woman asks.
“Yes. Dr Sanger: I’m a Protector. I wonder if you’d mind answering a few questions?”
She seems unruffled by the request.
“Of course. Livy, would you excuse us for a few minutes?”
Livy nods and leaves the apartment.
Dr Sanger is mostly unmodified, although her diamond eyes are clearly not her original ones. I wonder if they allow her to read two papers at a time, or read a book without opening it. Both are possible.
“So, how can I help?”
“I’m investigating the death of Dr Clemens, and I understand you knew him?”
“Ah. Yes. So sad. He and I worked together for several years, though not closely.”
“Can you tell me anything about his work?”
“He was a brilliant scientist, but his technique was… flawed. I wish he followed a more traditional approach, but he was obsessed with one topic in particular: mechanisms for the selective suppression of nanotechnology in vivo.”
“Can you explain what you mean?”
“He was trying to develop something, a drug, probably, that would stop the nanos in the human body from functioning. But he didn’t want to stop them all, indiscriminately: He wanted to choose which ones to turn off and do so for a specific duration. Of course, we can, to some extent, control the nanos in our own bodies. I, for example, enjoy the feeling of hunger, and of satisfying that hunger with food. That’s a choice I make. But he was trying to develop a way to do this to another person without their consent.” She grimaces, disapproval clearly expressed on her face.
I nod. This is making sense.
“Do you have any idea why he might have wanted to kill himself?”
“He killed himself? I thought it was murder?”
“We’re not sure. We’re trying to cover all possibilities.”
“I can’t imagine why he would want to commit suicide. And in this case, it seems implausible. He reported breakthroughs in his research just days before his death. He seemed…”
She breaks off, thoughtful. “Yes?”
“Well, he seemed excited. Like a child before Christmas. As if he’d cracked it. Cracked something big.”
She looks down. I wonder if we’ve both reached the same conclusion.
“Is it possible that he wanted to kill himself in a particular way and developed a drug that would stop his nanos from keeping him alive?”
“Sure,” she says, “why not?” Her electronic eyes bore straight through me. After a moment of thought she nods decisively. “I imagine that’s exactly why he’d do it.”
We sit in silence for a minute.
Dr Sanger draws a deep breath. “Are we done?”
“Yes, of course.”
I get up to leave, but she stops me. “Why?”
“Why would he kill himself? And why do it like that?”
I sat back down.
“I don’t know for sure, but I believe he wanted to get my attention.”
“What? What have you got to do with it?” She looks at me, incredulous.
“I believe Dr Clemens suffered horrific abuse on his way to Titan and no-one would listen when he reported it. I think he decided that the only way to get the crime taken seriously was to kill himself. And maybe he took the lives of two other men. I don’t know the real reason, but my guess is they were involved in his abuse.”
“What kind of abuse?”
“Chief Protector Schwab tortured him, and many others, on their trip from Earth.”
For a second, I see fear cross her face.
“What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t. I’m sorry if my visit upset you.” No point in outstaying my welcome. “I’ll let myself out.”
As I leave Dr Sanger’s office, I turn off my do-not-disturb notification. Two messages appear in my queue, both from Clarkson.
“Abbie, I took another look at the DNA from the Clemens scene. There’s something strange. I think you should take a look.”
In the second message, he is struggling to control his excitement: “You really have to hear this. Call me!”
Once I’m back in my taxi and have set it off on another convoluted goose chase, I call him back.
“What have you got?”
“Oh Saturn, you must see this. I was looking at the DNA from Clemens’ apartment again. It was in a skin sample from the Chief. No one really looked too closely at it, other than to sequence it. I’m not sure why, but I decided to. It is skin, and it really seems to be the Chief’s. But it also contained something else: a nano-dot.”
“How much storage?”
“A few petabytes.”
“Anything on it?”
“Oh yes. A video file. Encrypted, but pretty straightforward AES with a 256-bit encryption key. Didn’t take me long to crack. Watch this:”
He streams the video. I close my eyes to watch it on the inside of my lids.
I see Dr Clemens’ face. I physically jump with surprise in the taxi seat when he addresses me directly.
“Abbie, I hope it’s you watching this. If it is, it means you’re investigating my death, and that you’re being thorough. Good. I need to confess something to you and also give you what I think you need. As you no doubt know, I was on the Goldcrest when it made the journey from Earth to Titan, along with your father, Schwab, and five thousand others. By now, you have probably learned something of the truth about your boss, the Chief Protector. I have never considered another human to be truly evil, but I’ll make an exception for him.
“And, as you’ll soon see, he’s evil, and I’m afraid of what I’ve become. Not long after taking off from Earth, Schwab started building his team, forming alliances, earning trust. Not everyone, of course, just the people he thought would be useful. I didn’t know at the time what he saw in me. When he showed an interest in my work, I thought he was just a friendly guy. I was happy to tell him about it.”
Clemens looks down for a moment, and when he looks up, his eyes are red and there is moisture on his cheeks; he’s crying. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a man cry. He cries, but
it’s clear he’s fighting it. I wonder why he doesn’t just take control.
“But then, one evening, he asked me if I could turn off nanos selectively, and during a long discussion I sketched out how it might be done. He immediately told me to develop it. To my shame, I confess I knew what he planned. And I knew it wasn’t for anything good. I didn’t know the full extent of it, but I hold myself culpable. A few months later, I provided Schwab with a small tablet that he could dissolve in liquid. When consumed, it would turn off pain inhibiting nanos. I’m sure you can imagine how he used them. I had no part in any of that, but he made it clear what would happen to me if I ever told anyone.”
He shudders and closes his eyes, remembering.
I’ve made the wrong assumption about Clemens’ motivation. He wasn’t one of the Chief’s victims. He was inadvertently complicit.
“So. Why am I killing myself? Abbie: I need you to take the Chief down. I’ve provided you with all the evidence you’ll need. There are files on this nano-dot. They’re keyed to your biometrics only. The result of decades of my work. I’ve gathered video and audio evidence from everyone I could find. No single item of evidence is completely damning, but taken together, not even the Chief could withstand the full weight of it in court.
“In case you haven’t worked it out, I killed the other two men. Schwab’s confederates, part of his goon squad here on Titan. They were the ones who arrested your father, and Schwab sent them to threaten me into silence. Neither one of them was as evil as the Chief, but they both deserved to die.
“Inhibiting the various nano functions in our bodies was a lot harder than re-enabling pain perception, but I finally managed it. That’s when I knew I was ready. My new drug is programmable and can disable the nanos in a human body selectively. You may have noticed my emotions are no longer under nano-drone control. And I have this
He holds it up. It’s the same one I saw sticking out of his chest.
“Why don’t I just go public myself? I tried early on, but no-one would listen. Your father tried too, and look where he ended up. But I’m a coward. I am as guilty as Linus Schwab, since I enabled his crimes. But I can’t face the punishment your father endures. And I can see no other way for both me and the Chief to atone for our sins. I must die.
“When I finish this recording, I’ll call you to ensure that you are the one who investigates my death. Then I will stab myself. I don’t imagine it will be pleasant, but unlike the agony your father has been suffering, it will, at least, be brief.
“Now, one last thing that may help. Take Dr Sanger to my lab in the University, open the second drawer. I believe she’ll know what to do with what’s in there. Use it wisely.”
The video ends.
“Did you get all of that?” Clarkson’s face replaces Clemens’.
“Clarkson,” I say. “Thank you. I wasn’t sure who I could trust, and I can see no reason why you should be taking any risks for me.”
“If what Clemens says is true…” He doesn’t need to finish the sentence. I now know I have an ally.
“He said there’s evidence in the nano-dot?”
“Ah, yes. I couldn’t access it. Sounds like you should be able to, though. I’m teleporting it to you.”
“Thank you, Clarkson.”
“No problem. Call me if you need my help.”
I knock on Sanger’s door, and this time she answers. She doesn’t look pleased to see me. She tips her head toward her room full of students. I grimace.
“Doctor Sanger, I’m sorry, but I really need your help.”
She closes her eyes, then turns
to her students. “All right everyone. Carry on. Livy, take over, yeah?”
Once Sanger’s outside, I ask her if there’s somewhere private we can go.
She leads me into the office next to hers.
“Smithers is on sabbatical at the moment. No one ever comes in here.”
The office is the opposite of Sanger’s. There are two bland paintings on the wall, a table and four hard wooden chairs, and the obligatory printer. Nothing else.
We sit on the chairs.
“I’m going to send you a video. I need you to watch it.”
She frowns, but doesn’t object. After viewing it, she stands up decisively.
I look at her, puzzled.
“To Dr Clemens’ lab. I don’t know
what’s there, but it sounds like he wants me to help you.”
My taxi is waiting for me outside the University. As I step into it, I receive a call from an unidentified source.
“Abbie. I have an encrypted link. Let’s talk.”
The voice sounds like Cal, Dad’s home-built artificial intelligence.
“How are you doing this, Cal? I thought Dad’s cell was completely off-Grid?”
“That’s right. But I found a back door. Arthur’s cell has access to certain utilities within the prison. And one of those—the one the guards use for entertainment streaming— it’s not very secure. Through it, I connected to the main Grid. From there, I’ve set up a secure channel, using onion routing.”
“Do I need to know what that means? What if someone hacks into it?”
“Oh no, it’s quite safe. I’m sending this message to every inhabitant on Titan simultaneously. But for them, it’s encrypted gibberish. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you; but I uploaded a onetime pad into your system. It allows you to decrypt this signal. Any trackers will get lost in the servers. No way to identify its source, destination, or my data.”
Brilliant. And if Cal is as capable as he seems, I believe my plan will work.
“Cal, I’ve got some files I need to send you. Can this channel take a few petabytes?”
“It should, but it might take some time. What’s the data, Abbie?”
I send him the video of Clemens along with the data. It takes half an hour. The taxi continues meandering while we wait.
When it finishes, I tell Cal my idea. “And you believe Dr Sanger understands Clemens’ work well enough?” he asks.
“I think so. No way to test it, of course. But I believe she’s given me what I need. And now all that’s left is for you to do your part.”
“Of course, Abbie. I’m informing Arthur now.”
The Chief looks up at me as I walk into his office.
He takes a relaxed slug of whiskey from a crystal tumbler.
“Come to turn yourself in. Have you, Abbie?”
I don’t answer. He gestures with his glass.
“Want some? Over a hundred years old. From Earth.”
He probably printed the entire drink, glass and all, a few minutes ago, but at an atomic level it’s
indistinguishable from an aged single malt.
“No, thank you. I’m here to arrest you.”
He smiles. “Oh really? And how do you plan to do that?”
“I know what you did, Chief. What you do…”
He looks confused, but confident, a combination no doubt designed to shake my resolve. “My dear, I don’t know what you mean. Please, do sit down.”
I ignore him.
“I have corroborated, damning evidence of your crimes while onboard the Goldcrest.”
He looks momentarily surprised, then stiffens.
“If you don’t turn yourself in,” I say, “I’ll publish it all. Titan wide.”
“And how will you do that?” he asks, a smile forming on the sides of his moistened lips. “You’re a wanted criminal. All your publication rights have been revoked.”
He stands up and walks over to the window, his back to me, looking towards my father’s prison.
“You know, Abbie, you’re just like him. He thought he could bring me down too. And like him, you’ll suffer for your hubris. I don’t care what evidence you think you have. No one can touch me.” He turns to look at me. “Don’t you understand?”
He sits back at his desk and sips his whiskey.
I tell him about Clemens’ video and about the evidence he gave me. Schwab nods, admiring Clemens’ ingenuity.
“I liked Clemens. He could have been my successor if he stuck with me. But he had too many morals. Science has taken so much away from humanity, so much that brought us pleasure, and he helped me get it back.”
He gives me a quizzical look, as if
he’s wondering what I’m going to do next.
“We have opened a new referendum.” I say. “The evidence Clemens collected will be presented to the people of Titan, and they will be asked to determine your fate. My father built an artificial intelligence, and it found a way to escape the Citadel, and gained access to the main Grid. The evidence is being broadcast as we speak.”
He laughs and takes another sip of whiskey.
“Oh dear. Is that your plan? I’m afraid that just won’t work, Abbie. I control the voting system.”
He closes his eyes, opens them a second later.
“There. I just ended the referendum. I decide whether there will be one! No referendum today, Abbie. Sorry.” He smiles obscenely.
I expected he could stop this. The Chief will, of course, make a call for help. I need to act before his goons arrive.
I watch his face, looking for the signs of loss of control. The drug I put in his whiskey should start working at any moment.
His emotions contort his face. First confusion, then fear, and finally anger.
“What have you done?” he shouts.
“Dr Clemens was working on a more general version of the drug he developed. His associate, Dr Sanger, helped me with the last steps. Once it enters the bloodstream, it temporarily disables all nano devices. I imagine you’re starting to lose control now. Soon you’ll be back to your baseline biology. No enhancements. No access to the Grid. You won't have any nanos maintaining your body. And if you suffer some kind of extreme trauma, there’ll be no way to recover. Perhaps you shouldn’t have turned your back on me.”
I pull out my knife. It’s a replica of the one Clemens used. I printed it in the taxi on the way to Schwab’s
office. I hoped I wouldn’t need it, but right now I can’t see an alternative.
I jump onto the desk. Schwab tries to fend me off, but his reactions are too slow, his unenhanced muscles too weak. Pushing the knife into his chest is easy. His face turns bright purple. Blood seeps from the corner of his mouth. He tries to speak, gurgles, and collapses back into his chair.
I receive a call from Cal.
“Hello Abbie. The Chief shut down the voting system, but I started it up again. The referendum is now live.”
I hope this vote, unlike most, will lead to some discussion, some real thought. People might actually look through the evidence and discover what kind of person the Chief was. And then, I hope, they’ll approve his execution. They won’t know I’ve already carried it out, and that’s unfortunate. But I don’t think they would disagree once they know the details.
For the first time in nineteen years, my father is free. The referendum went the way I’d hoped, with over ninety per cent voting for Schwab’s execution. Nobody except his bodyguards knows the Chief Protector died before the vote. The Protectorate has already started an investigation to identify his collaborators.
A new election is being held. The next Chief Protector will have vastly reduced powers. A new system of government is being built, modeled on some of the more successful ones from Earth’s history. We will build it on the assumption that anyone can be corrupt.
For now, though, I’m sitting on the roof of my apartment with my father. The deep orange evening sky is full of the green-tinged lights of buildings and buzzing vehicles. I lean my head on my dad’s shoulder and we whisper our hopes for the future.
E.B. Gula is a former audiologist and science major who ultimately turned to the arts side, now a PhD student in French specializing in Québécois literature, narratology, and the cognitive processes involved in reader reception.
As a writer of both contemporary and speculative fiction, she dabbles in a broad range of story genres and forms.
When she's not reading, writing, or studying literary theory, she enjoys cos-play, learning languages, and watching Korean dramas. E.B. resides in the Greater Toronto Area with her spouse and two cats.
She has been published in Theme of Absence and Teleport Magazine.
Born and raised in the South of France, J.F Sebastian is a queer, neurodivergent science fiction writer who has been living and teaching in Toronto, Canada, for the last 18 years.
Writing in English, and under different pen names, is a way for them to better explore and express their identity beyond their social and professional “established self”.
Their latest stories in English have been published in Interzone (January 2023) and Tree and Stone Magazine (Queer as F* issue, October 2022).
They have two upcoming stories, including one in Suburban Witchcraft Magazine (June 2023).
Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati.
He was most recently accepted for publication at The Horror Zine, Allegory Magazine, The Horror Tree, JAKE magazine, The Night Shift podcast, Libretto publications,
White Cat Publications, Culture Cult, Savage Planet, Short-Story.me, Yellow Mama, ApocalypseConfidential, Mystery Tribune, Blood Moon Rising, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary. His first novel, titled Abry, is scheduled for publication with Offbeat Reads this summer.
He lives in Kentucky with his wife, Mary, and his pet rabbit, Achilles.
Greg Bear was an acclaimed science fiction author and artist, known for his attention to scientific detail in his work.
He published his first story, "Destroyers," in Famous Science Fiction in 1967, and went on to write a number of influential works exploring major questions in contemporary science and culture, often proposing solutions. He won multiple accolades, including five Nebula Awards and two Hugo Awards, and was a co-founder of the San Diego Comic-Con. Bear was also one of the authors of a prequel trilogy to Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, and was credited with the middle book.
He passed away in November 2022, at the age of 71.
Ben Coppin is a talented writer, editor, and web developer.
In addition to his technical expertise, he has also written several short stories and is currently working on the third draft of his first novel.
He has been published in a number of literary journals, including Altered Reality Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Short Fiction Break.
In 2007, Coppin launched and edited Darker Matter, an online science fiction magazine that ran for five issues.
To learn more about his work, visit his website at http:// coppin.family/ben.
Connor Fisher is the author of The Isotope of I (Schism Press, 2021) and three poetry and hybrid chapbooks including Speculative Geography (Greying Ghost Press, 2022).
He has an MFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English from the University of Georgia.
His poetry has appeared in journals including Denver Quarterly, Random Sample Review, Tammy, Tiger Moth Review, and Clade Song.
He currently lives and teaches in northern Mississippi.Ben Coppin Fiction Contributor
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1. Pick any whole number between 1-10.
2. Double it!
3. Multiply the total by five.
4. Divide the answer by your original number.
5. Subtract seven. That's your fortune. Look up your fortune number on the next page to see what the universe has in store for you!
#1: Your sensors will detect a black hole forming near your ship. Its a once in a lifetime experience.
#2: Your reactor will fail, but it will allow you first contact. Caution advised.
#3: You will be served on the all-you-can-eat buffet at the last rest stop before the freeway near Alpha Centauri. Unfortunately, your flesh is succulent when prepared on the greasy griddle of the Night Rider Diner. What bad luck. Pick a different number!!!
#4: You will open trade negotiations with the approaching alien fleet.
#5: An asteroid will bring you great wealth.
#6: You will win a spaceship during your next poker game. Ignore the rumors. It's not haunted.
#7: You will be offered a tall handsome robot, buy at your own peril!
#8: Your next spacewalk will result in unexpected intergalactic admiration.
#9: You will find yourself as the leader of a group of intergalactic rebels.
#10: Expect to receive a transmission from a parallel universe.